As everyone should know, one persistent theme of modern art (which in the age of hyper cathedral-enforced political correctness is made a joke) is the absolute daringness of everything being permissible. “Nothing should be off limits to the artist”, a cliche heard time and time again by various darlings of the contemporary art scene, both past and present. Little to people remember how shocking the 70s was in terms of the art scenes, be it in music, film and visual arts. The 70s were a wild time, one can only image the hunger people had for the ability of art to shock their senses. I mean so much was happening, How else could a photographer like Mapplethorpe, or a film maker like Jean-luc Godard, or an artist like Francis Bacon receive a wide audience? Of course in the circles i run in, a film like “salo” or the bondage piss photos of Mapplethorpe, that’s all degeneracy. That may be true, but i am a writer and an artist that has an odd penchant for exploring things often considered degenerate, albeit from an artistic or even “objective” (if there is such a thing, and there probably isn’t) lens.
So here we have a piece from one of my favorite modern artists of all time, “Two figures on a Bed” by the aforementioned Francis Bacon. Not only is He one of my favorite artists, but in discovering this piece a year ago for the first time in the stellar documentary on his life, i found out that Francis shared another closely held love of mine, Pro-wrestling; Now being an artist myself, and a writer, and somewhat skilled in the observation of all things Professional wrestling, I feel this piece is calling my name.
Now let me begin with stating that pro-wrestling was quite different in the 50s when he painted this ode to his own chaotic inner life. Pro-wrestling was still a “work” but a closely guarded one, that still had ties to its carnival side-show days. Few wrestlers were in the business, most were legitimate amateur/collegiate wrestlers, and often times the matches were half “shoot fights”, in other words real (like what Japanese strong style claims to be today). The business was controlled like an organized crime syndicate, similar to the shady business model of most carnival acts, whereby the “marks” are taken for a ride and charged inflated prices to see men fighting. Of course they traveled from town to town like the carnival in those days before mass tech-communication, so it was easy to convince fresh audiences that the wrestlers were legitimately hurting each other.
Now the most apparent aspect of this particular work was Francis Bacon struggling with his own sexuality. For many years, academics in Queer studies have written quite a bit of literature on “queering” professional wrestling as having an underlying homo eroticism to this supposedly hyper-masculine sport. Now i would say there might be something to it, but in the modern world, I Would argue pro-wrestling is one of the only outlets of genuine masculinity left. Of course far-leftist academics love nothing more than infiltrating traditionally male spaces, such as the love between best friends in a group of men, and casting a shade of homoerotic suspicion on them ,as Bronze Age Pervert has observed .
However, in Bacon’s piece, the observations made by queer studies is quite warranted. Bacon has quite a violent string of relationships, and to be frank, He was a submissive that combined drunken bouts of violence done to him by his lovers, and the erotic. In one incident, His psychotic lover lacy even defenestrated Bacon, I.E. pushed him out of a glass window, where he nearly lost an eye. Bacon then commented that He loved Lacy even more since he provoked his Sadomasochistic desires.
The figures on the bed share a lot of similar themes that run throughout Bacon’s work, in particular that loose yet stringy muscle definition that he later abstracted into blown apart and tattered mounds of flesh. The faces and the washed out horrific gaze of the wrestlers makes this piece distinctly bacon-esque; Similar to Auerbach, Francis would whip out the faces but maintain the facial features, similar to a movie or animation effect that provokes a sense of incredible energetic pain and excretion. this creates quite a stunning display of a homosexual couple wrestling in their tattered bed, in the traditional nude Greco-roman style, with the look of pain and absolute anguish fixed in their gaping faces. Acute facial expressions are less evident in MMA, since fighters are focused on countering various submissions and guards, but in pro-wrestling, a weird combination of fighting, Parkour, and theater acting, wrestlers are taught to exaggerate the pain felt in various holds, power moves and submissions. Think to any match where Ric Flair locks in the figure four, or where Kurt Angle puts someone in the ankle lock. The absolute look of terrifying and bloodcurdling pain rushing through their opponents as they quickly try in vain to grab the ropes, and plead with themselves not to tap out, all expressed with that signature face shot; One of the best looks of fighting off the pain of a submission was Stone Cold bleeding profusely wearing a “crimson mask” as Jim Ross would often say. Bret “the hit man” Hart has him in a sharp-shooter, its the main event of Wrestlemania 13, and Stone Cold passes out from the pain after dramatically screaming his lungs out.
In this painting, Bacon i linking the pain and anguish of wrestling with the homo-eroticism of submissive bondage. To express love fro Bacon is to commit violence, to overtake and submit the other in toto. The lover’s bedroom is transformed into a wrestling arena, the bed is the ring, the pain expressed in the inflamed muscles of a submission hold, etc.
It was also an ode to the technical brilliance of Bacon in rendering the human form despite not having a very keen sense of drawing or learning human anatomy required in the classical method of drawing and painting the human form. Bacon was one of the most realist and painterly of the “modern” artists of his era, doing smaller studies of subjects he would then paint on giant canvases. What i find most interesting is His study material; Bacon, as evidenced by his garbage/hoarder heap of a studio that has been carried into the Watts Gallery and preserved in full, had thousands of ripped up photos glued together in odd combinations. not having a natural drawing skill, Bacons would take dozens of photos o the same subject and rip them apart in a Burroughs-like “cut up” method. He would then tape the arrangements together and paint them, often doing this to the human body and face.
For His wrestling paintings, Bacon had a submission/Amateur wrestling picture study book on various moves and holds. This was ideal since the photos and wrestling instructors were of a high quality, and easily showed the various muscle contours in each submission. he would then rip them out and use them in the final paintings.
violence becomes the erotic, Sex and Thanatos, human destruction/humiliation, submission and masochism are combined in the very pain-filled and torn-apart life of one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Now a days the PC art crowd considers a lot of the works of Bacon in this regard to be “uncouth” and “not with it” in its honest self-exposure of His inner violent homosexuality. Because of course, modern art equals transgression, so long as its transgressing against the mainstream art world approved-of targets and taboos; in closing who knows what Bacon would make of Pro-wrestling today. Perhaps he would be painting scenes from a death match, light tubes and broken glass strew about, with bloody and pain-raked opponents dancing the primordial dance of horrific violence and submission.