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In this 1985 documentary on the artist, made while he was still very much alive, Francis Bacon talks through one of his most iconic works and explains how he makes paintings. The documentary features a series of conversations between Bacon and interviewer Melvyn Bragg, and eventually devolves into hanging out with Bacon at bars.

Sounds awesome, right? The full documentary is available on Ubuweb. “How this painting came about,” Bacon says, speaking of his famous “Painting” from 1946, “I have no idea. It just happened to evolve, and it evolved very very quickly … it’s one of the most unconscious paintings I’ve ever done.” He goes on to rave about sides of meat he saw in butcher shops, sights the served as the inspiration for many of the artist’s paintings.

When told that many viewers think of his paintings as “sights of horror,” Bacon responds, “well, how could I compete with the horror that goes on every single day? I’ve tried to make images of realism.” The artist seems slightly drunk by this point, but that wouldn’t be too surprising. The artist died in 1992, in part from complications due to alcoholism.

The conversation also covers the beauty of the word voluptuousness, Bacon’s thoughts on Michelangelo and large glasses of wine. At one point, Bacon gets up, grabs a bottle of wine, and with a loud “Cheerio!” tops off his glass. Why? Because he’s “a painter, that’s all.” Needless to say, this is totally worth watching.

Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly, Kill Screen, Creators Project,...

2 replies on “Francis Bacon Describes His Painting Process”

  1. Wow. Bacon seemed at first to be the Dudley Moore of painters. However, he may be the poster child of nihilism. If you believe in nothing, I suppose the world is just one big horror to endure. As a painter, watching this made me want to run for cover: Find meaning, revel in beauty, imagine life at its most exhilarating and miraculous. Or, like Bacon, drink yourself to death in a scary, empty, meaningless existence. It’s a choice we can make.

    1. He was really adamant about being “optimistic” but about being “optimistic for nothing.” I mean, optimistic for oblivion? I didn’t really get that.

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