Bacon often equated the process of conveying profound emotion to the pursuit of truth. For him, this meant not only exploring the deep-seated pains and passions of individuals, but also those of the era in which lived. Bacon was a child as World War I came to a close, and began painting in earnest as World War II ramped up; he came of age and matured in a society forced to reconcile with the horrors of both conflicts. He channeled these experiences into his work, as well.
“Bacon has admitted…that one of his goals is to meet the challenge of a violent age by reviving in a meaningful modern form the primal human cry, and to restore to the community a sense of purgation and emotional release,” wrote critic Sam Hunter in the 1952 article “Francis Bacon: The Anatomy of Horror.”
His work was fueled by a desire to lay bare the difficult emotions and experiences that we have a tendency to bury, in favor of presenting more positive versions of ourselves and our society. As writer Robert Penn Warren put it in his book The Grotesque in Art and Literature: Theological Reflections, Bacon insisted that “the end of art is to provide us with the fact, the truth of who we are.”
In his own words, Bacon explained this intent to writer Hugh Davies, in 1986: “Great art is always a way of concentrating, reinventing what is called fact, what we know of our existence—a reconcentration…tearing away the veils that fact acquires through time,” he said. “Really good artists tear down those veils.”