Here we are not concerned with the art-historical. Our singular concern with history lies with Bacon’s alleged source of inspiration, Federico García Lorca’s poem, ‘Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias.’ Lorca’s dirgeful words describe Ignacio Sanchez, once a comrade, once a worthy warrior, once a notorious bullfighter – once, because his body now lies on the hot sands of five o’clock in the afternoon, punctured by a bullhorn:
“I will not see it!
Tell the moon to come,
for I do not want to see the blood
of Ignacio on the sand.
I will not see it!
Oh, white wall of Spain!
Oh, black bull of sorrow!
Oh, hard blood of Ignacio!
Oh, nightingale of his veins!
The lament goes on for pages, but Bacon has three canvases to tell this story.
Canvas/Frame One, beginning from the right hand side: the Mythical
A bull goring the black-grey-pink-blue-red surface with its horn. The black-grey-pink-blue-red skin of the canvas resembles deteriorating, rotting flesh. The orange in the background is a recurrent thematic colour throughout Francis Bacon’s oeuvre, and also recalls the orange afternoon, the Mediterranean, the setting sun – a day, coming to an end. The bull is reflected within a frame/razor-blade/opening. The frame/razor-blade/opening seems to either rest on the rotting flesh, which has folded around its tip, or has already sliced through it, its sharp tip now hiding inside the cut-open wound.
Canvas/Frame Two, the central canvas: the Figurative
The frame/razor-blade/opening reflects an anatomy that grounds the gaze in its swirling composition; the many interceding circles, drawn distinctively and faintly, suggest a whirling flow, a succession of movements perpetually departing and arriving at themselves and each other – perhaps resembling a Zoetrope of three slides, spinning from Canvas One, to Two, to Three, to One, to…freeze-frames of a motion picture. The snippet of a nipple seems to have cut through the frame/razor-blade/opening, the nipple itself cut: a frame within a frame within a frame, a slice within a slice within a slice, paralleling the lattice-framing of the bird-like figure in Canvas One, and of the stretched leg in Canvas Three – a transitive succession, through which the body is continuously punctured, penetrated, opened, sliced, framed, canvased, as if viewed not horizontally, but vertically, with a gaze that sees through it, and not just around it (as accomplished in Cubism or Cézanne). And blood flows through it all, as if outpouring the broken planes of space, out, into my face, into my gaze, as part of my gaze, and not as its object.
Canvas/Frame Three, on the left hand sight: the Morgue
The circle of suggestions has come full circle: are we seeing the body of a bullfighter – black-grey-pink-blue-red, rotten to a pear-like variegation, almost rainbow? Are we seeing it through a window, or a door that opens to a morgue? Or is it perhaps Lorca’s body in a Spanish garrison, stinking hours after his assassination? Or perhaps the body of his comrade, also killed by the Francoist fascists, which is reflected in the razor-blade that rests on/cuts through Lorca’s rotten body, held by a coroner, or a sadist colonel? Or is it a negative, marked with an arrow and another swirling circle, manifesting the handiwork of the coroner? Or is this perhaps the third frame of a story now reaching its morgue-bound end? The account of a self-mutilation, a suicide, reflected in three freeze-frames?
As the razor slices through the skin, opening it up to the flow of other reflections, narratives, blood, and bodies, Bacon’s cinematic vision reflects itself within the kaleidoscopic play of the three canvases, doors, windows, negatives, freeze-frames, razor-blades…remember: Bacon himself asked that his paintings be covered with a reflective sheet of glass.