The Death of Francis Bacon – Max Porter

Once you’ve read The Death of Francis Bacon, you can’t help feeling that only Max Porter could have tackled the imagined thoughts of this violently visual painter. As already seen in Grief is the Thing with Feathers and Lanny, Porter’s style suits the noisy, graphic style of the painter himself. In a way, the layout and structure mirrors the messiness of Bacon’s own studio, capturing a frenetic quality of working, particularly in Section Six. Bacon remains, for me, a creator of uncomfortable and often repellent images, but I can see the fascination he holds. Porter himself says ‘[the book is] an attempt to express my feelings about a painter I have had a long unfashionable fixation with.’ There’s an intimacy in the imagined last days of the painter, dying as he did in a Spanish convent in 1992. In amongst the fragmented anger and frustration, there’s a dry humour, a knowingness too.

 ‘The century abandoned me at dusk. / I panicked and added more newsprint.’

That idea of blending forms is also what Porter’s voice is doing here, moving from internal monologues to snatched conversations and what appear to be interviews, and then to the voice of the woman tending to the dying artist at the end.  Bacon’s imagined voice comes through the most clearly, railing as he does at those who have critiqued his work unfavourably, and those he suspects are just hanging on his coat-tails. He’s equally as wary of the ‘shits who will write a god-awful hack-tosh-hagiography of me after I’m gone.‘ Porter creates seven text-pictures, weaving in and out enough biographical references to give depth to Bacon’s voice, but this is done in such a vividly brilliant way that Bacon would surely approve. With the dying man, always, is a nun, a nurse to aid him in his final days, with the repeated urge to ‘Intenta descansar’ bringing each section to an end. This final quietness perhaps fits in with pictures like Study of a Bull, painted the year before he died. This is a picture I was able to find more moving, missing as it does the element of the grotesque so often a key feature of Bacon’s work.

In a Guardian article last month, Porter talked about Bacon’s impact on his viewer: ‘He knew … how to make a scene pop, how to drag a viewer in, how to go from calculable damage on the surface to inexplicable lushness in the depths’. This is pretty much how I feel about all of Porter’s writing. Like Bacon, he is sometimes uncomfortable, always challenging; unlike Bacon (although I now have a more grudging admiration here), he’s producing work I am utterly taken with.

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