Bacon’s distorted and idiosyncratic images bear eloquent witness to the actual events of the post-war period and more generally to twentieth century humanity’s innate capacity for mass violence, writes John W. Whitehead.
Bacon, an atheist, faced constant torment, dissatisfaction and uncertainty, never knowing the security of a traditional religious belief. However, in a perverse way, Bacon was one of the most deeply religious painters of the century. The agony of his unbelief became so acute that the negative in his work—pessimism, loneliness, despair, emptiness, distortion, darkness, stark mortality—became an almost religious attribute. In fact, Bacon had an acute fascination with the crucifixion of Christ. “I’ve always been very moved by pictures about slaughterhouses and meat, and to me they belong very much to the whole thing,” Bacon once said. “I know for religious people, for Christians, the Crucifixion has a totally different signature. But as a nonbeliever, it was just an act of man’s behavior, a way of behavior to another.”
Bacon, however, clearly expressed his atheistic pessimism: “Man now realizes that he is an accident, that he is a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game without purpose, other than of his own choosing.” On another occasion, he remarked: “We are born and we die and there’s nothing else. We’re just part of animal life.”