‘Reckless and Ruined’ Bacon and McFadyen at the Royal Academy: Rebel Painters Series

There’s a great pairing of two painters who understand surface tension and the possibilities of paint at the Royal Academy in two separate exhibitions, Francis Bacon Man And Beast and Jock McFadyen’s Tourist without a Guide Book. One artist grapples with internal post war fury and savagery, overwhelmingly oppressive while the other is a tour guide to post capitalist detritus. Lucien Freud described Bacon’s technique as ‘calculated recklessness’ and the phrase serves Jock McFadyen equally well.

There is such volume in Bacon’s work, figuratively and metaphorically. You can hear the muffled weight of strangled screams and monstrous moans emitted by these twisting, writhing sinuous figures. Bodies move in slow motion contorted by the paint that skims and splatters the surface. In these works Bacon elevates the tragedy of struggling brief lives lived within the human jungle to crucification status.

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His aim was to paint skin like it was rhino hide. In his final painting, fittingly a bull exiting the ring, he created the fuzz of bull fur with his own dust. It’s hard to turn away from this triumphant metamorphosis of man and beast because here is the end of the struggle, the certainty of mortality finally realised while the painting remains alive, quickening your heart and burning itself onto your retina.

McFadyen loiters with wry intent in unloved alleys and street corners and opens them up to our eyes so you look up to big skies and feel your way along the damp crumbling brickwork. There is humour here and joy at discovering a sense of a place. Here are the unknowable stories written all over our urban spaces if only we stop and stare long enough, industrial echoes, human ingenuity and failure, the click and clack of high heeled shoes, a rendezvous for illicit purposes, drunken kisses or a meagre shelter from the elements. Jock brings all this to us, collecting forgotten places and guiding us through them with a rueful nod and a wink, human spaces, the mess of life.

‘Somebody must

Have an orphanage for

These things that nobody

Wants any more’

Tom Waits, Broken Bicycles

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