cover image Bacon Portraits and Self Portraits

Bacon Portraits and Self Portraits

Milan Kundera, France Borel. Thames & Hudson, $60 (215pp) ISBN 978-0-500-09266-8

Phenomenal drinking habits, chronic sleep deprivation, and a dangerous taste for the lowlife didn't seem to dampen Bacon's productivity. Perhaps they even fueled it. During his turbulent lifetime (1909-1992), Bacon was called variously ""the most important and original artist of postwar Europe"" and ""the greatest painter of flesh since Renoir."" His images of screaming mouths, writhing bodies and elongated, headless necks were intended to be an assault on the viewer's nervous system; they conveyed, to use Art International editor Peppiatt's characteristically deft phrase, ""the snarl of rage and the bellow of fear"" that lurk in every human being. A challenge to biographers, Bacon manipulated his public persona and was tight-lipped about his genteel Irish origins. Peppiatt, however, had the advantage of a 30-year friendship with the artist in writing this full-scale, psychological biography. Here he explores the contradictions of Bacon's psyche: guilt about being homosexual versus a desire to flout convention; atheism mixed with an obsession with religious imagery; egotism tempered by near-saintly generosity. The flamboyantly promiscuous and eccentric Bacon lives in Peppiatt's descriptions (""he walked with a springily weaving step, as if the ground rolled beneath his feet like the deck of a ship at sea""). Peppiatt doesn't ignore Bacon's dark side, but overall, this anatomy lesson is not an autopsy, but the unveiling of a sympathetic portrait. Illustrations. (June) FYI: In April, Thames & Hudson will publish Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits which included 223 color illustrations, an introduction by Milan Kundera and an essay by France Borel ($60 216p ISBN 0-500-09266-4)