Bacon: Three studies for a portrait of Isobel Rawsthorn (image from here)
It was my third visit to the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art on the campus of the University of East Anglia. It is such an attractive place - the whole campus - every time I have wanted to come to live here, to be surrounded by such an invigorating atmosphere.
The Sainsbury Centre (image above from here) is essentially a huge warehouse dug into the hillside - but what a warehouse! and what contents! The permanent collection alone is one I would happily visit on a regular basis.
This time it was Francis Bacon, and my great appreciation of his work which was the attraction. I thought it would be fascinating to see some of Bacon's work alongside that of the artists he appreciated - perhaps to glimpse some of the decisions he made. We were not at all put off by the outburst review by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian newspaper; I was still excited at the prospect as we had our pre-exhibition coffee, and I came away afterward with even more than I had expected. (Here is a more positive review.)
It was just wondrous to see works which attracted, interested, influenced Bacon, a wide range, eclectic, and so many coinciding with my own taste, as well as being of outstanding quality. It was good to see a range of quality in Bacon's pieces, some with obvious influence, others not so much. In the best artists, influence is internalised: it is part of general input, sometimes specifically acted upon, but still part of that input when not seen in the output.
Image above from this BBC film about the exhibition
The examples of work from artists from whom Bacon drew in this case were taken from the Hermitage collection in St Petersburg. It was great to have such a range: Egyptian death masks, Michelangelo sculpture, Picasso, Van Gogh, two wondrous Rembrandt portraits, ....
(both images from here)
So often Bacon's work is taken to be a perversion of beauty, an ugly distortion of the body, and yet, the broken and missing limbs of ancient Greek sculpture are somehow accepted as a pinnacle, the epitome of beauty.
Bacon: Studies of the Human Body (image from here)
For me Bacon shows the inner complexity of human relationships, with themselves perhaps more than with others. The paradox is that the complex, chaotic is presented within such clear clean ordered attractive compositions - derived from, but not anything like any classical examples.
At the desk, when I bought the catalogue, the assistant asked me if I had enjoyed the exhibition. Mostly, she said, the visitors had fallen into two camps: the Bacon aficionados and those who ignored the Bacon but had come to see the Hermitage works. Both had been satisfied by the exhibition. I found it to be one of those memorable exhibitions which takes over a large part of my brain, and which will be thought about and digested for years to come.
Matisse: four bronze sculptures jointly known as The Backs
Immediately after having seen Bacon and the Masters it was difficult to think of adding more, so I restricted myself to Matisse, ceramics, and walking through the permanent collection, stopping only here and there. Memorable were prints by Eduardo Chillida, a large head by Thomas Houseago, and a case full of ceramics by Rupert Spira - all already favourites.