As Bacon entered his seventies his work continued to evolve. He met the challenge of landscape, which he had largely avoided since his Van Gogh works of 1957. The paintings, such as Landscape, 1978, and A Piece of Waste Land, 1982, were deliberately enigmatic, being isolated segments of landscape without scale. The title of the latter work contains a surprisingly literal allusion to T S Eliot’s The Wasteland, yet the image, with its diagrammatic arrows, is pointedly unspecific. In Jet of Water, 1979 and Sand Dune, 1981, the quasi-industrial settings are about to be engulfed by either a sandstorm or a sudden explosion of water.
During the 1980s, Bacon simplified his pictorial language, paring it down to its essentials. The human body was savagely abbreviated to a stump and a pair of legs (Study of the Human Body, 1982) or starkly implied by its residue (Blood on the Floor–Painting, 1986). His technique became, if anything, more nuanced and refined. Aerosol spray paint was used to create granular, gauze-like surfaces with the suggestion of bruising and medical trauma. His palette divided between paintings with searing red/orange backgrounds and those with a cooler tonality of greys, creams and pale blues. Among the most impressive achievements of his last decade were two portrait triptychs, Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards, 1984 and Study for Self-Portrait, Triptych, 1985-6. Both paintings conveyed a quality not often associated with the artist: an imposing sense of calm.