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Raw, restless penetration

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Pope Head: The Secret Life of Francis Bacon

featuring Garry Roost1544945_249181978576548_1198645593_n

Demonstration Room, Summerhall, Edinburgh, until 30 August

The twisted, tortured paintings of Francis Bacon – one of the most powerful artists in British history – present many challenges to those who view them.

Garry Roost’s portrayal of the tensions behind the man and his work also has its disquieting moments – but that’s not because of any deficiencies on the high-energy English actor and writer’s part. Quite the opposite. It’s because of his art at communicating them.

Roost confronts the torments that shook Bacon, the people around him and eventually the art world – the early deeply-felt rejections, his life at the mercy of racking asthma, the bouts of mental and physical violence that also expressed themselves in illicit homosexual affairs and relationships – and emerges with a masterful picture.

In sparse surroundings, Roost weaves in and out of a triptych of minimalist backdrop vertical screens (denoting Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, perhaps) probing Bacon’s drive and demons, momentarily switching to the identities of other figures in Bacon’s life, pulling the contorted faces of Bacon’s self portraits, screaming like his subject in Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. Pope Head indeed.

It’s not without its vulnerability, tenderness and humour either – Roost reflects on Bacon’s inexplicable yearning for a domineering father, his devastation at the loss of dear carers and muses and his moments of ‘Champagne for my true friends and true pain for my sham friends’.

It’s a raw, restless 60-minute penetration that jabs at and turns over the human condition in the same way that Bacon explained of his work: “The paint comes across directly onto the nervous system.”

Pope Head is as balanced and practised as it is ballsy – between its last Edinburgh Festival run and this, it played to enthusiastic reviews on an 18-date tour of eastern Australia – and it’s an absorbing and accomplished canvas, fully deserving of your own time and reflections.

Written by Writers Editorial Services

August 22, 2015 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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