Symposium | Bacon’s Bodies

Francis Bacon symposium: Bacon’s bodies

Three figures and a portrait 1975 oil and pastel on canvas, 198.1 × 147.3 cm; 217.5 × 166.8 × 9.8 cm (frame), Tate London, purchased 1977

Perspectives on the continuing significance of the art of Francis Bacon to coincide with the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ current exhibition Francis Bacon: five decades.

This symposium considers the body as subject, the physicality of painting and the continuing significance of Francis Bacon’s body of work. Speakers will address this theme in relation to Bacon’s material practice, his studio (now preserved at Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane), as well as history, politics, food, and sexuality.


Anthony Bond (director, curatorial Art Gallery of NSW & curator, Francis Bacon: five decades) | Nicholas Chare (Department of Gender Studies, University of Melbourne) | Barbara Dawson (director, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane) | Andrew Durham (conservator, ArtLab Australia, formerly of the Tate Gallery, London) | Macushla Robinson (assistant curator, Francis Bacon: five decades)

Date: Saturday 9 February 2013, 9.30am–4pm

Venue: Art Gallery of NSW, Domain Theatre.

Cost: Non-member $65, Member/concession $50, Full-time student $30Includes lunch

Bookings and enquiries: 02 9225 1740 or visit the AGNSW website

Co-presented by the University of Sydney and the Power Institute.

Full Program

Anthony BondFrancis Bacon: realist

This paper will focus on the realist aspect of Bacon’s practice and his philosophical musings on representation, on chance, chaos and order, unconsciousness and criticality. It will place him within the late 20th-century avant-garde as an indexical realist, based on his own words, material from the studio and the paintings themselves.

Anthony Bond is curatorial director at the Art Gallery of NSW and curator of the exhibition Francis Bacon: five decades. His many projects at the Gallery include the exhibitions and accompanying publications for Boundary rider: 9th Biennale of Sydney (1992–93), Body (1997) and Self-portrait: Renaissance to contemporary (2005–06). In 2009, he curated Mike Parr: Cartesian corpse at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart.

Nicholas ChareDissolute practices: addressing Francis Bacon’s body politics

This paper will examine recent developments in the study of Francis Bacon’s work, including the theological significance of his art (Rina Arya) and its connection to European fascism (Martin Hammer), in relation to the artist’s enduring fascination with bodies in seeming dissolution. Drawing on this path-breaking scholarship for inspiration it will additionally address how representations of flesh in Bacon’s works betray political agency.

Dr Nicholas Chare is lecturer in gender studies at the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne. His book After Francis Bacon: synaesthesia and sex in paint was published by Ashgate in 2012.

Barbara DawsonFrancis Bacon’s food

Over 40 cookbooks were found in Francis Bacon’s library and several were located in his studio. He was known to be a good, if simple, cook. A renowned gourmand, Bacon enjoyed eating and drinking and was a regular presence in London’s best restaurants as well as in the drinking dens of Soho. He lived through two world wars and witnessed severe food shortages in London during World War II. Food played a significant role in the artist’s life and work. Describing himself as a ‘desperate optimist’, Bacon’s nihilistic view of life as expressed in his paintings often drew on images of meat and food to underpin the message.

Barbara Dawson is director of Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane. She secured the donation of Francis Bacon’s studio and its contents for Dublin in 1998 from the artist’s heir John Edwards. The relocated studio opened to the public in 2001. Dawson is the author of many texts and curator of exhibitions on modern and contemporary artists including Richard Tuttle, Julian Opie, Rita Donagh and Richard Hamilton. She has contributed to many books on Bacon, most recently Francis Bacon and the existential condition in contemporary art (2012). In 2009, she co-curated Francis Bacon: a terrible beauty with Martin Harrison – the first exhibition to specifically examine the artist’s processes and materials. Dawson is a partner in the research project Bacon’s books: Francis Bacon’s library and its role in his art, a collaboration between The Hugh Lane and Trinity College Dublin.

Andrew DurhamFrancis Bacon: his painting technique

This paper will look at how Bacon developed his very idiosyncratic style of painting, the materials he used and what ‘chance’ and ‘accident’ may mean in the context of the act of painting.

Andrew Durham studied history of art at Cambridge and conservation of paintings at the Courtauld Institute in London. He was a paintings conservator at the Tate Gallery, where he interviewed several significant 20th-century painters on their technique, including Francis Bacon. His Note on technique was published in the 1985 catalogue of the major Bacon exhibition at the Tate. As head of conservation at the Australian National Gallery, he interviewed contemporary artists such as Carl Andre and Frank Stella about their techniques. He is currently the director of Artlab Australia in Adelaide.

Macushla RobinsonFrancis Bacon and the female nude

Against the tide of art history, Francis Bacon predominantly painted men. It may seem strange, then, to consider his paintings of women, but Bacon painted some erotically charged nude women and these paintings raise a fascinating question about how Bacon, a homosexual man, engaged with and represented female sexuality. This paper will tease out some of the political issues implicit in Bacon’s depiction of the female form.

Macushla Robinson is curatorial assistant at the Art Gallery of NSW. She is the assistant curator on the Francis Bacon: five decades exhibition and the author of the artwork entries in the accompanying book. As well as contributing to Gallery publications, she has written art criticism for journals, including Art and Australia and Art Monthly.