On a sun-bright Friday in late May I crossed the Mersey on the famous ferry for the first time in about 50 years. I had vague thoughts of visiting the Francis Bacon exhibition at the Tate but really I just fancied a wee trip in the sunshine. During the course of my mini-break there were two images that struck me - Dazzle, and the Pope. And two comparisons.
Dazzle? Thats the name for the camouflage used on ships in the first world war to confuse the enemy. Unlike other forms of camouflage, dazzle camouflage works not by concealing but by baffling the eye, making it difficult to estimate a target’s range, speed and direction. Realised in monochrome and colour, each ship’s dazzle pattern was unique in order to avoid making classes of ships instantly recognisable to enemy U-boats and aircraft.
Working to a brief from the WWI Centenary Art Commissions along with the Liverpool Tate the pop artist Sir Peter Blake transformed the Ferry across the Mersey with a psychedelically colourful interpretation. I think he did a great job. It is difficult to find appropriate remembrance for such a horrific war and last year there were plenty of examples, most remarkably the Tower of London`s `blood swept lads and seas of red` with its outpouring of ceramic poppies. `Everybody Razzle Dazzle` proves that you can be respectful but also optimistic at the same time.
Optimistic is not something that can be said for Francis Bacon. I went along to http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/exhibition/francis-bacon-invisible-rooms .
I have to admit, I struggle with Bacon. There is no denying the intensity of emotion in his canvases but I find him impenetrable and depressing. I want art to lift me up, inspire and ennoble me. This exhibition, which focuses on the `frames` in which he placed his images, again left me cold. With the exception of one painting, the one you see above (sorry about the poor reproduction). This is one of Bacon`s many studies after Velasquez`s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. For some reason Bacon was obsessed with this image and painted it again and again over decades. Many of the studies show his characteristic `scream` treatment, but this one is more muted, and the pose is different: instead of the Pope`s forearms stretched out horizontally on the chair arms (as in the Velasquez original) here they are upraised. A gesture of frustration, of stress? I prefer to see them as a frisson of triumph. `The Pope witnesses a 93rd minute Italian winner in the Euros`. Flippancy aside, I do like this painting. I like the colours, the flesh tones, the contrast between the black background and the ecclesiastical purple.
No wonder Blake was inspired. The Velasquez original is one of the greatest portraits ever painted.