by Maria Popova
“It’s all so meaningless, we may as well be extraordinary.”
David Lynch has called legendary British artist Francis Bacon (October 28, 1909–April 28, 1992) “the main guy, the number one kinda hero painter.” Like Lynch’s films, Bacon’s paintings compel the way a scene from a nightmare does — a scream piercing the psyche, at once terrifying in its beauty and beautiful in its terror. “An artist must learn to be nourished by his passions and by his despairs,”Bacon once told an interviewer — an ethos he himself very much embodied.
How his passions and despairs fed his art is what British writer Kitty Hauser and artist Christina Christoforou explore in This is Bacon — another fantastic instalment in same series of illustrated artist biographies that gave us This is Dalí and This is Warhol, illuminating Bacon’s influences and infatuations to shed light on his darkly alluring art.
Hauser writes in the introduction:
By all accounts, Francis Bacon had an effect on those he met. He didn’t look like other people, didn’t talk or act like them. “It’s all so meaningless,” he liked to say, “we may as well be extraordinary.” His paintings continue to have an effect on those who see them. They have the capacity to move us, without it being possible to say why. They convey something of how it feels to be human — King Lear’s “poor, bare, forked animal.”
[But] Bacon realized he walked a tightrope of success and failure with every brushstroke, and with every work. He destroyed a lot of paintings. He was aiming high, after all… “My work will either end up in the National Gallery or the dustbin,” he used to say.
From the ravishing Venus of Urbino, past Ingres’s sensual Odalisque, to the feminist riposte of the Guerrilla Girls, the female nude has inspired, enraptured and enraged.
Venus of Urbino by Titian (1536-38)
No one has ever painted naked women as gorgeously as Titian did. His ravishing Venus is a lover laying her beauty bare, and the recipient of her optical largesse is anyone who happens to stand in front of this painting in the Uffizi gallery in Florence, Italy. Titian creates with mind-boggling skill the lavish presence of this nude: the rapture of her carnal glory. There’s something divine about such beauty. Some people find profundity in religious art, in abstract art, in conceptual art. For me, there’s nothing more moving in art than the breasts of the Venus of Urbino.
Vivienne Westwood by Juergen Teller (2013)
Nudity never loses its power. The conventions of the nude can be enjoyed, and challenged, in limitless ways. Vivienne Westwood glories in poses culled from painting as she exults in all the possibilities of nakedness in art, while in her 70s.
De Kooning famously said, “Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented,” and although he often worked in an abstract style he continually returned to the figure.
The Oldest Living Things in the World: A Decade-Long Photographic Masterpiece at the Intersection of Art, Science and Philosophy
by Maria Popova
What a 13,000-year-old eucalyptus tree reveals about the meaning of human life.
“Our overblown intellectual faculties seem to be telling us both that we are eternal and that we are not,” philosopher Stephen Cave observed in his poignant meditation on our mortality paradox. And yet we continue to long for the secrets of that ever-elusive eternity.
For nearly a decade, Brooklyn-based artist, photographer, and Guggenheim Fellow Rachel Sussman has been travelling the globe to discover and document its oldest organisms — living things over 2,000 years of age. Her breathtaking photographs and illuminating essays are now collected in The Oldest Living Things in the World (public library) — beautiful and powerful work at the intersection of fine art, science, and philosophy, spanning seven continents and exploring issues of deep time, permanence and impermanence, and the interconnectedness of life.
With an artist’s gift for “aesthetic force” and a scientist’s rigorous respect for truth, Sussman straddles a multitude of worlds as she travels across space and time to unearth Earth’s greatest stories of resilience, stories of tragedy and triumph, past and future, but above all stories that humble our human lives, which seem like the blink of a cosmic eye against the timescales of these ancient organisms — organisms that have unflinchingly witnessed all of our own tragedies and triumphs, our wars and our revolutions, our holocausts and our renaissances, and have remained anchored to existence more firmly than we can ever hope to be. And yet a great many of these species are on the verge of extinction, in no small part due to human activity, raising the question of how our seemingly ephemeral presence in the ecosystem can have such deep and long-term impact on organisms far older and far more naturally resilient than us.Continue reading “The Oldest Living Things in the World”