Critical and Theoretical Perspectives
John G. Hatch Seeing and Seen: Acts of the Voyeur in the Works of Francis Bacon
… the spectator who approaches them with no preconceived ideas, gains direct access to an order of f lesh-and-blood reality not unlike the parox- ysmal experience provided in everyday life by the physical act of love … which makes it a sensuous delight, but one so intense that … to some people … it can appear wholly abhorrent. — Michel Leiris: Francis Bacon (Leiris, 1988: 6) The subject of Francis Bacon’s paintings is more often than not an isolated figure, or a couple, who are vulnerable, unsuspecting, sometimes even unaware of their own surroundings. They are shown in an interior setting and, though sparse, there are nevertheless cues indicating that the space is a private one. Sometimes the cues are subtle, such as a light switch, whilst at other times they are more obvious – items such as a washbasin – or con- veyed through actions, such as the figure shown defecating or the couple copulating. Many times the scene is closed of f to others by a shut door or a pulled blind. Our view, however, is never obstructed, and we are privy to some extremely intimate moments. As such, we are in a privileged posi- tion by being made witness to acts of intense privacy by the painter who tenders the invitation to see, nevertheless placing us simultaneously in the position of a voyeur. Our position as a voyeur is underscored by figures in the paintings, which sometimes acknowledge us and often take up a station similar to our own. For example, the man on...
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