A short review for a short book? Seems pretty apt.
The Death of Francis Bacon is Max Porter’s brief, yet weighty investigation of the mind of the famous curmudgeon (and painter, I guess) Francis Bacon.
Bacon, known to non-enthusiasts as “the screaming pope guy” is a favourite artist of mine, who could encapsulate ennui, rage and the mystery of modern life more successfully than most going, albeit in a curiously gnomic way. He was a man of large appetites, into rough trade, and had a spectacularly messy workroom that produced some of the most stark art yet seen.
(He was also known to his fellow Colony Room alcoholics as “Old Cunty”, so draw from that what you will about his often abrasive personality, though salt it with a little more generosity than you’d expect.)
What Porter does in the couple of dozen pages the Death runs for, is to give voice to the thoughts locked in Bacon’s head during the last few days of his life, accompanied by memory and the occasional nurse. From his bed in Madrid, the thoughts reach out to the past – to lovers, friends and enemies.
Each section is a missive aimed at a Baconian artwork that does not exist, even though the descriptions of same are easily imagined. Interviews are recounted. Visions of himself as Caesar flit by. The man’s ache for companionship (poleaxed by his habitual pushing-away of everyone but the most dedicated supplicant – or bruiser) are considered.
Death, of course, is on his mind. How could it not be, lying in what is, increasingly obviously his deathbed? Death, and its antithesis, fucking, are intertwined in the liquid flow of thoughts, of addled musings so carefully contrived.
Porter’s portrait of the painter’s last thoughts – a cavalcade of effluvium – so poignantly captures Bacon’s essence that it’s hard to think of a factual presentation which does the same so well.