Francis Bacon- Second version of triptych 1944
New York City, June 2009 -
It has rained thirteen out of the last fourteen days. The weather has been cloying and humid, the streets have been dark, slick, reflective, and the people who have dared to endure the elements have been walking with heads down; quick, wet, irritable, and dejected.
The Metropolitan Museum is currently running a centenary exhibit of Francis Bacon. Last week I crossed the park twice to walk through the exhibit. It spoke to me so strongly that I was pulled back for a second visit just two drizzly days after the first. I slowly snaked my way through each gallery of twisted gnarled faces and bodies, shoes wet from my walk through the park I studied the affliction, sexual urgency, confinement, and grief expressed in Bacon’s triptychs and towering canvases.
Thursday evening I met with two dear friends and the three of us went to the New York Philharmonic to hear the second symphony of Jean Sibelius, the great Finnish composer. Composed in 1900, this popular work is thought to have been connected with Finland’s struggle for independence. It was written at the time of Russian sanctions on Finnish language and culture. Whether this was Sibelius’ intention or not is widely debated but the repeated motifs and the lush orchestrations churn and eddy to an emotional, gut-wrenching crescendo.
My inner emotional life is often greatly affected by my environment but now my external setting seems to be an extension of my internal condition. I have been grappling with some personal issues; my younger sister’s mastectomy and the family drama surrounding her pain and trauma, repeated alcoholic relapses of people I feel close to, as well as my own continued self-doubt and discontentedness.
Bacon’s twisted viscera and Sibelius’ whipped orchestrations lock-step with my inner condition and all this frustration and turmoil appears to have expressed itself as the heavens have been wringing out and washing over the city day after day after day. Not only a reflection of myself but also an extension of what I see happening across the globe in Iran, in the continued suffering in Iraq and Afghanistan, in rapidly rising unemployment and poverty here in the U.S., in a tumultuous national political climate, in escalating economic unrest, it rains and it rains.
More rain is expected today and though little has changed since I went to sleep last night right now the sun is shining. Clouds are quickly moving overhead but my perspective seems to have varied and even as my momentum can remain steady the trajectory of my destination can alter. I spoke with my sister earlier this morning and her spirits are lighter than would be expected - through it all I am reminded of my own powerlessness. Something greater than myself has allowed me to identify with the beauty in the torment of Bacon’s twisted vision, in the urgent discord of Sibelius’ strings. Something greater than me will care for the suffering across the globe and that same Great Something is allowing me to be present for those who need me.
Something has been lifted. Change is inevitable. All things pass.