Francis Bacon’s Paint

 

 

                                                                                                                                                

                                                                                                                                                                             Francis Bacon, Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne, 1966

 

 

 

 

 

“I really do like paint to be very fresh.”

Francis Bacon, Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, Thames & Hudson: 1975

 

 

 

“Half my painting activity is disrupting what I can do with ease.”

Francis Bacon,  Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, Thames & Hudson: 1975

 

 

 

“I just paint. I paint out of instinct. That’s all. If I stop to wonder why I paint, I say I paint out of instinct.”

Francis Bacon, Bacon's Instinct, David Plante, The New Yorker, November 1, 1993

 

 

 

“Enigma is the pure gushing out of what gushes out / Profundity that shakes everything, the coming of the day.”

Maurice Balnchot, The Work of Fire, Editions Gallimard: 1949

 

 

 

“Accident takes the form of semen-like white paint that Bacon claimed to fling out of the tube at some of his canvases.”

 John Richardson, Bacon Agonistes, The New York Review of Books, Volume 56, Number 20 · December 17, 2009

 

 

 

“There are some, such as Jet of Water, 1988, showing water in violent movement and readable as metaphors for ejaculation.”

David Sylvester, Figuabile:  Francis Bacon, Electa, Museo Correr, Venice, 1993

 

 

 

“When the paint itself breaks loose into a flowing white emanation, streaming away across the canvas, it is the intimation of a direction.”

Lawrence Gowing,  Francis Bacon: The Irrefutable Image, Francis Bacon Recent Paintings, Marlborough-Gerson, New York: 1968

 

 

 

“But in trying to do a portrait, my ideal would really be just to pick up a handful of paint and throw it at the canvas and hope that the portrait was there.”

Francis Bacon, Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, Thames & Hudson: 1975

 

 

 

“The paint has a dreadful materiality, as though the grainy cellular structure of the pigment, swiped with a loaded brush across the canvas, were a smear of tissue.”

Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New, 1991

 

 

 

“I don’t think there are two different realisms … I think realism incorporates the subjective and the objective … No, I don’t for a moment think there are two realities.”

Francis Bacon, Unpublished Interview with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, 1984

 

 

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“I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence and memory trace of past events, as the snail leaves its slime.”  

Francis Bacon, The New Decade: 22 European Painters, Museum of Modern Art, 1955

 

 

 

“You’ve got marvellous teeth, Geraldine. There are a thousand different cries and I’ve done them all. I want to paint a smile. A seductive smile. It isn’t a question of size, it’s a question of resonance.”

Francis Bacon; Geraldine Norman, Signature tune, The Times Saturday Review, 9 July 1977

 

 

 

“I really do like paint to be very fresh. I like, you may say, the glitter and colour that comes from the mouth, and Ive always hoped in a sense to be able to paint the mouth like Monet painted a sunset.”

Francis Bacon, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, Thames & Hudson, 1987

 

 

 

“Bacon could become entranced by all kinds of odd marks. I remember when we wee sitting at the Coupole in Paris, he suddenly became fixated by the shape a pool of spilt milk had made on the table.”

Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, Westview Press, 1996

 

 

 

“To Francis Bacons private view – only six canvases, three being of popes in purple robes, shouting, declaiming or simply glaring, each from within a shadowy glass box. No one can deny his impressiveness.”

Frances Partridge, December 11th, 1951; Diaries 1939-1972, Phoenix Press: 2001

 

 

 

“I can only hope that the throwing of the paint onto the already-made image or half-image will either re-form the image or that I will be able to manipulate this paint further into – anyway, for me – a greater intensity.”

Francis Bacon, Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, Thames & Hudson: 1975

 

 

 

“Van Gogh got very near to the violence of life itself. Its true to say that when he painted a field he was able to give you the violence of grass. Think of the violence of the grass he painted. It’s one of the most violent and abominable things, if you really want to think about life.”

Francis Bacon; The Legacy of Genius: Van Gogh and Francis Bacon; Francis Bacon – Studies for a Portrait, Michael Peppiatt, Yale University Press, 2008

 

 

 


“The clotted, grainy paint dragged over the unprimed canvas sets up a visual discomfort similar to the scrap of fingernails on fabric, so that the nerves are immediately altered to something unusual, something sinisterly unpleasant, before the image has spelt itself out in the brain.”

Michael Peppiatt, Head 1, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, Westview Press, 1996

 

 

 

“As a figurative painter, Bacon had the cunning of a Fragonard. (The comparison would have amused him, and both were accomplished painters of physical sensation – one of pleasure and the other of pain.) Bacon's cunning has understandably intrigued and challenged at least two generations of painters.”

John Berger, Prophet of a pitiless world, The Guardian, Saturday 21 May, 2004

 

 

 

“Bacon is a virtuoso manipulator of paint, and he pointed with particular pride to the picture where the image of water splashing wildly from a tap was surrounded by large expanses of bare canvas. He liked the fact that its pristine surface was undisturbed by even the tiniest smudge of pigment.”

Richard Cork, Virtuoso manipulator of paint, The Listener, 15 November 1984

 

 

 

“One could say the ejaculatory blurt of white paint in a painting like Two Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, 1968, is chancy, but that kind of chance is easily manipulated with practice, and it rhymes suspiciously well with other curves in the painting (like the back of the chair in the picture within a picture to the left).”

Robert Hughes, Singing Within The Bloody Wood; At the Tate, a second celebration of Francis Bacon, Time Magazine,  7 July, 1985

 

 

 

“I remember Bacon becoming transfixed, for instance, by a puddle of milk on a café table; he lifted his finger, as if to draw in it, then rather reluctantly abstained – the chance shape of that puddle of milk – also left their traces. And from this extraordinary commingling all Bacon's images were born.”

Michael Peppiatt, Bacon's Eyes; Francis Bacon - Studies for a Portrait, Yale University Press: 2008

 

 

 

“I remember having a coffee with him at La Coupole in Paris once and there was some milk spilt on the table and then suddenly, he couldn't stop himself, one of these thick fingers came out and he started to sort of trace; it was a marvellous moment because it was a bit like a child who sort of sees something and does something with it.”

Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon - Untitled (Pope), Sotheby's: 23 October, 2012

 

 

 

“With Bacon the play of paint is for real. One imagines his special watchfulness as it throws up unthinkable kinds of resemblance. Time and again he is drawn into a fearful game of chicken — to stay with the paint at the perilous onset of likeness. It is played with the only stakes that are big enough to make it most exciting, the indisputable equivalence of paint as flesh.”

Lawrence Gowing,  Francis Bacon: The Irrefutable Image, Francis Bacon Recent Paintings, Marlborough-Gerson, New York: 1968

 

 

 

Lets make clear, as it were, whos on the couch and who's behind the couch in ones relation to the painting. It is vital to recognize that it is not we qua analyst who are there to analyse the painting if my argument is going to be sustained it is to the function of the painting to analyse us. You might say: how can a painting speak? Well actually of course, its almost true that a real analyst cant speak. We are its patient. It is there to interpret us.

Mark Cousins, The Analyst, Architectural Association, Lecture, 1 February, 2002

 

 

 

When one talks about paintings, its all nonsense. It has its language and anything else is a bad translation. I do feel the need to paint. I paint for the excitement which comes when the image comes across but I also hope luck will work with me in paint. I have always painted to excite myself. For me images are ways of unlocking the valves of sensation. It is when you stop fumbling around and the images crystallises or when you realise you can take it further.

Francis Bacon, Bacon’s art gets the red-carpet treatment, The Sunday Times, 25th September 1988

 

 

 

“The greatest things in movies are divine accidents. Sometimes I’ve had those accidents. I made a picture, where I reached through a window in Touch of Evil, and found an egg, in a pigeon’s nest. We made a whole scene about it, so you can do those kinds of thing and then control them. But I want to go further.”

Orson Welles, Interview, Albert and David Maysles, Madrid, June 1966

 

 

 

“But in the dialectic between sensations of reality and the making of a picture, what mattered most in the picture was paint, the inherent eloquence of paint, paint handled so that it 'comes across directly onto the nervous system. Manipulation of paint became an inexhaustible gamble, involving all sorts of exploration and chance.” 

David Sylvester, Bacon's CourseFigurabile: Francis Bacon, Electa, Museo Correr, Venice, 1993

 

 


 

“With Bacon the play of paint is for real. One imagines his special watchfulness as it throws up unthinkable kinds of resemblance. Time and again he is drawn into a fearful game of chicken — to stay with the paint at the perilous onset of likeness. It is played with the only stakes that are big enough to make it most exciting, the indisputable equivalence of paint as flesh.”

Lawrence Gowing, The Irrefutable Image; Francis Bacon Recent Paintings, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York, NY:  1968

 

 

 

“Bacon’s picture, as usual, is in lamp-black monochrome, the zinc white of the monster’s eyes glittering in the cold crumbling grey of the face. Bacon is a Grand Guignol artist: the mouths in his heads are unpleasant places, evil passions make a glittering white mess of the lips. There are, after all, more things in heaven and earth than shiny horses or juicy satins. There are the fleurs du mal for instance.”

Wyndham Lewis, The Listener, 12 May 1949

 

 

 

“With oil paint being so fluid, the image is changing al the time while you’re working. One thing either builds on another or destroys the other. You see, I don’t think that generally people really understand how mysterious, in a way, the actual manipulation of oil paint is. Because moving  even unconsciously moving – the brush one way rather than the other will completely alter the implications of the image.”

Francis Bacon, Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, Thames & Hudson: 1975

 

 

 

“The creative process is a cocktail of instinct, skill, culture and a highly creative feverishness. It is not like a drug; it is a particular state when everything happens very quickly, a mixture of consciousness and unconsciousness, of fear and pleasure; it’s a little like making love, the physical act of love. It can be as violent as fucking, like an orgasm or an ejaculation. The result is often disappointing but the process is highly exciting.”

Francis Bacon, Exclusive interview with Francis Bacon,  Francis Giacobetti, 1991-2, The Art Newspaper, June 2003

 

 

 

“There Dyer’s body congeals into his cross-legged thighs as he squats on a curving sofa looking both ways like Janus, and a tasselled cord hangs into the cage of isolation that surrounds him. A spurt of white paint that may be spent semen gushes from the buttocks of a shape kneeling in the worship of the flesh before him beside an empty folding chair with a red seat, and a lying dog is the voyeur, pointing his muzzle towards his master.”

Andrew Sinclair, Francis Bacon - His Life & Violent Times, Crown Publishers, Inc., 1993

 

 

 


“To the point, in fact, at which the face as we know it would disappear altogether in the jewelled slime of the paint, leaving behind it an eye socket, or the deep cave of a nostril, or an irreducible patch of hair, as tokens that somewhere among the strong-willed chromatic smearing a named individual was commemorated. No questions, here, of setting the scene: we are at a dentist's distance from eyes, nose, mouth and teeth, and the rest of the world is blocked out.”

John Russell, Francis Bacon: His Life & Violent Times, Andrew Sinclair, Crown Publishers Inc., 1993

 

 

 

“What has never yet been analyzed is why this particular way of painting is more poignant than illustration. I suppose because it has a life completely of its own. It lives on its own, like the image one’s trying to trap; it lives on its own, and therefore transfers the essence of the image over more poignantly. Its a very, very close and difficult thing to know why some paint comes across directly onto the nervous system and other paint tells you the story in a long diatribe through the brain.”

Francis Bacon, Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, Thames & Hudson: 1975

 

 

 

“We will never understand the face – it will be a persistent site of enigma. The face is a kind of mess and we do not know what it is. You cannot work it out. Something about the face speaks of its fundamental indecision. Its not knowing who it is, its not knowing who to be. The problem of the face when is becomes a model for something else it produces a vaporous enigma over things. The face cannot be a stereotype for something. The face is the disruption of the stereotype, the stereoytypical.”

Mark Cousins, The Face and the Façade, Architectural Association Lecture Hall, Friday 16th February, 2018

 

 

 

I first met Bacon in 1950, when John Minton took me to see him in his studio in South Kensington. When we walked into the room, I beheld a sight that is still vivid in mind. Bacon was at the top of a stepladder doing a spot of home decoration He was splashing the ceiling with quantities of white paint in a slapdash way. It transpired that he was dressed for work in a brand-new Saville Row suit and he looked, of course, as though someone had thrown a bucket of the paint over him. He couldn't care less.

Jeffrey Bernard, A painter who coloured my days, Sunday Independent, 17 November, 1996

 

 

 

“If you have a master plan for what you are going to do, exactly where the camera’s going to be, exactly what the scene is supposed to state; if you’re locked into that, you are depriving yourself of the divine accidents of movie-making, because everywhere there are beautiful accidents. There is a smell in the air, there's a look that changes the whole resonance of what you expected. And then there are the true accidents, and my definition of a film director is the man who presides over accidents – but doesnt make them.”

Orson Welles, Filming Othello, 1978 

 

 

 

“This is arguably Bacon’s most impressive exhibition. The painting itself is resourceful and varied without ever descending to flashiness or mere bravura display. Tightly disciplined, it thrusts incessantly into a separate celebration: harsh, abrasive, squelchy or glittering, despite its essential interdependence with the form. Perhaps the banal handling of paint describing a hypodermic syringe in his last show was deliberate: if Callas can make an ugly sound for solid dramatic reasons Bacon can do the equivalent with pigment.”

Bryan Robertson, Behind the Pulpit, The Spectator, Friday, 13 August, 1965

 

 

 

“In doing that which I wanted to do, I have done so many things I did not want. The act has not been pure, for I left some traces. In wiping out these traces, I have left others. When the awkwardness of the act turns against the goal pursued, we are at the height of tragedy. Laius, in order to thwart the deadly predictions, will undertake precisely what is necessary for them to be fulfilled. In succeeding, Oedipus contributes to his own unhappiness like the prey that flees the noise of the hunter across a field covered in snow, thereby leaving the very traces that will be its ruin.”

Emmanuel Levinas, Is Ontology Fundamental?, Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale: January-March 1951

 

 

 

“But that an accident as such, detached from what circumscribes it, what is bound and is actual only in its context with others, should attain an existence of its own and a separate freedom – this is the tremendous  power [Macht] of the negative. Spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power [Zauberkraft] that converts it into being. This power is identical with what we earlier called the Subject [i.e., Geist], which by giving determinateness an existence in its own element superseded abstract immediacy, and thus is authentic substance: that being or immediacy whose mediation is not outside of it but which is mediation itself.”

G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 1807

 

 

 

It is how the paint is smeared across the features of the face. The smearing  means disintegration: the face is already food for worms, the skull seen now beneath the skin. The smearing means destruction: the face is wounded, shattered. The smearing means obliteration. The smearing means all this, but what these meanings involve conveys itself before there has been time to become aware of meanings. The meanings, all of them, lie in the paint, and they are in the paint not latently but in the impact of the paint upon our senses, on our nerves. Nothing in these paintings is more eloquent than the paint itself.

David Sylvester, Francis Bacon: The Human Body, Hayward Gallery, 1998. 

 

 

 

“Bacon has repeatedly said that he is not an ‘expressionist’; it is easy to show what he means by this by contrasting his work with that of the currently fashionable, but lesser, painter George Baselitz (at the Whitechapel Gallery) – who is. Baselitz deals with a similar subject matter; but he invariably handles paint in an ‘abstract expressionist’ manner; i.e. in a way which refers not so much to his subjects as to his own activity and sentiments as an artist. Anatomy, physiognomy, gesture and the composition of an architectural illusion of space mean nothing to him: to Bacon, they are everything. Or rather almost everything.”

Peter Fuller, Raw Bacon, 1983

 

 

 


“Bacon’s object in the last fifteen years has been to find more and more new valves to open. Once they are opened, and the feeling floods out, we find it is not al all what we had expected it to be... But it is here that the paint takes over. The paint will not allow the picture to be treated as magazine-illustration gone berserk. There is a difference, as Bacon has said, between paint which comes across directly on to the nervous system’ and paint which 'tells you the story in a long diatribe through the brain’. Society tries to transfer Bacon’s less palatable pictures to the brain, but the paint insists on speaking directly to the nerves.”

John Russell, Francis Bacon, Art In Progress, Methuen, London 1964

 

 

 

“What Bacon accomplishes is a linkage of the power of the painterly process to the power of social authority. The painterliness that gives hysterical flair to the person also mutilates that being into oblivion, generalizing it toward nonbeing. That something can be so real and at the next moment an illusion belonging to the past expresses the ambivalence endemic in archaeologism. All Bacons figures exist in a time warp, at once radically contemporary yet belonging to a dead world. Bacons hysterical painting is paradoxical, and never more so than when it gives authority to inherently unauthoritative, almost banal figures.”

Donald Kuspit, Hysterical PaintingArt Forum, January, 1986

 

 

 

“The thing is one can’t really talk about painting, only around it. After all if you could explain it why would you bother to do it? You always hope that the paint will do more for you, but mostly it's like painting a wall when the very first brushstroke you do gives a sudden shock of reality that is cancelled out as you paint the whole surface. What one longs to do above all, I think, is to reinvent appearance, make it stranger, and more exciting. What one wants in art nowadays is a shorthand where the sensation comes across right away. All painting, well all art, is about sensation. Or at least it should be. After all, life itself is about sensation.

Francis Bacon, Francis Bacon – In Your Blood – A Memoir, Michael Peppiatt, Bloomsbury Circus: 2015

 

 

 

“A seated self-portrait on the right is loosely mirrored in a seated portrait at the left showing his lover, George Dyer, who had committed suicide barely 10 months before. In the triptych’s centre, the spot where a traditional religious painting would put the Virgin Mary or a crucified Christ, a blob of two entwined figures grapples in a macabre dance of sex and death. Before 1969, homosexual coupling was criminal under British law. The slick, carefully contrived elegance of Bacon’s paint handling is regularly interrupted by oozing discharges of colour. There is no narrative here, only direct visual sensation connected to visceral experience.”

Christopher Knight, 'London Calling' at the Getty and the tension between abstract and figurative painting, The Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2016

 

 

 

“The shudder released by the work of art, the experience of the modernist sublime, is the memory of the experience of terror and strangeness in the face of threatening nature. Shudder is the memorial experience of nature's transcendence, its non-identity and sublimity, at one remove. Shudder is a memory, an afterimage, ‘of what is to be preserved. Shudder is the address of the other; it corresponds to what Gadamer would identify as strangeness in the object of understanding, and what Heidegger thinks of in terms of the claim of being. Above all, shudder is the terror of the sublime in Kant, a terror made safe by the retraction of the object at its source.”

J. M. Bernstein, The Fate of Art: Aesthetic Alienation from Kant to Derrida and Adorno, Polity Press, 1992

 

 

 

“Of the younger painters none actually paints so beautifully as Francis Bacon. I have seen painting of his that reminded me of Velázquez and like that master he is fond of blacks. Liquid whitish accents are delicately dropped upon the stable ground, like blobs of mucus – or else there is the cold white glitter of an eyeball, or an eye distended with despairing insult behind a shouting mouth, distended also to hurl insults. Otherwise it is a baleful regard from the mask of a decayed clubman or business executive – so decayed that usually part of the head is rotting away into space. But black is his pictorial element. These faces come out of the blackness to glare or to shout.”

Wyndham Lewis, Round the London Art Galleries; The Listener, 12 May 1949

 

 

 

Nothing in these paintings is more eloquent than the paint itself. Paint that brings flesh into being and at the same time dissolves it. Paint whose fluidity conveys the fluidity of all it conveys. And the vast empty spaces are like the silences of a great actor. The paint is put on calmly, without violence or frenzy, for all the speed and spontaneity of execution. When Bacon is painting, his most characteristic gesture with the brush is a flick of the wrist made at arm’s length. Clearly he wants to distance himself from what he is painting, not to violate it. He detaches himself from his subject, declines to say where his sympathies lie, to impose his comment on the world he is making, and unmaking.

David Sylvester, In Camera, Encounter, April 1957

 

 

 

“A vibrant and deeply compelling new exhibition at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo shows that Bacon’s art blends equal quantities of savagery and grace, roughness and refinement. His brushwork, rich and fleshy with heavy dollops and smears of pigment, closely approximates the greasy sheen of light on human skin. His palette, which ranges from the baize green of the billiard tables and gambling casinos Bacon loved to the lurid reds and pinks of raw meat, shocks the eye to attention. Amid the repulsion, there are the strong attractions of exquisite brushwork, sombre and luminous colour, and a sense that the artist is revealing impulses and appetites normally kept under wraps.

Steven Litt, Raw emotion, searing insight of a major talent, The Plain Dealer, Ohio, Sunday, June 03, 2007

 

 

 

“Perhaps the greatest problem confronting the Trustees is to know which of our younger painters to represent. Purchases out of the Tate’s own pocket are an odd assortment, but then perhaps there has been little enough for the Trustees to choose from. As far as painting goes, they have been content with only one large work—another Francis Bacon, ‘Figure in a Landscape’.  I do not count this macabre piece among Bacon’s most successful efforts. It lacks spontaneity and the paint has died, rather as if the work did not come right the first time, nor even the second. Still I think that Bacon is more interesting than most of his generation. He has a conception and, what is rarer in an English artist, a personality.

John Richardson, What is New at the Tate Gallery?, The Listener, August 31, 1950

 

 

 

“Bacon opposed American Abstract Expressionism, scorning Jackson Pollock’s manner as “old lace” and Mark Rothko’s as “rather dismal variations on colour.” In fact, it is Bacon, rather than the Abstract Expressionists, who now looks prophetic about subsequent developments in art, starting with Pop and continuing through the so-called Pictures Generation. With a Pollock or a Rothko, you either feel about painting or have nothing to engage you. But I find myself persuaded that Bacon did identify with the visceral sorcery of paint—though he wouldn’t maintain it across any whole canvas—and that he wanted us to perceive that fact, even as he perversely threw melodramatic scenarios in the way.

Peter Schjeldahl, Rough Stuff—A Francis Bacon retrospective at the Met., The New Yorker, June 1st, 2009

 

 

 

“I like the down and dirty side of things. I don’t like things to be too polished. We’ve got fashion magazines for that. I paint flesh because I’m human. If you work in oil, as I do, it comes naturally. Flesh is just the most beautiful thing to paint. It’s become really difficult to do figurative painting that isn’t naff or cheesy and which feels relevant. I’ve found a way of doing it by looking at abstract painters like Willem de Kooning and Cy Twombly. I like looking at very old figurative painting, at the old masters. But when it comes to the art of our time, I prefer to look at abstract painting. It’s taught me a lot about the physical act of painting, about pace and tempo, using drips and marks in ways that aren’t just decorative.

Jenny Saville, Interview with Mark Hudson, Art Features, The Daily Telegraph, 24th June, 2014

 

 

 

“My painting isn’t about expression, it’s about instinct. I don’t express. I try to remake the image of reality that is in my mind. To create realism without falling into illustration you have to invent a technique. Painters attempt from generation to generation to find ways of returning an image onto the nervous system. One by one, the techniques of the past wear out. Yet one still wants to paint the same things — a body or a face. So you have to reinvent technique in order to find a new way of conveying something, such as a chair, onto the nervous system... All the painters who interest me have succeeded in doing this, and particularly Van Gogh, who did it in such an extraordinary way — a very simple but also a very mysterious way.

Francis Bacon, L'Express, 15-21 November, 1971

 

 

 

“The will to express sensation ends in transference, Bacon seemingly inhabiting the subject of his interest. It is well illustrated by Study for Bullfight No. 1 (1969) and the second version of the same picture. In the first Bullfight the crowd is visible and the matador has a face. The artistic viewpoint is that of a spectator and the picture accordingly verges on illustration. In the ‘improved’ version the crowd is virtually blanked out and the matador becomes no more than a shadowy presence. Greater emphasis is placed on the flung gobs of white paint. This is the bullfight from the point of view of the bull: blind, maddened, sapped of strength by the heat and spinning cape. Such transference is even more visible in his portraits.

John McEwen, Francis Bacon - New transmutations of an autumn rose, Studio International, Volume 198, Number 1010, 1985

 

 

 

“Bacon’s descriptions of his own work, as trying to capture the brutality of fact’, or as going straight to the nervous system, are a clear statement of what he’s after. Right from the first, Bacon tended to ratchet up the melodrama. Although influenced by cinematic imagery and montage (most famously the screaming nurse in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin), he was an explicitly theatrical painter, placing his actors centre-stage against plain backdrops, augmenting the action with a few strategic props: light bulb, chair, bed, toilet bowl, washbasin. But the heads and bodies are often violently disassembled, their flesh hideously contorted. Painted equivalents of bodily fluids – blood, spittle, semen, vomit – swirl about the canvases.

Aidan Dunne, The horror of the ordinary; The Irish Times, Friday, September 19, 2008

 

 

 

“I think it’s very important to maintain belief but to still realize that you’re on quicksand or your feet are clay. I always have this fantasy if I look down I’ll see hoofs and they’ll be a studio full of goat shit. So in one sense I want to be super-human but in another sense I feel I'm barely an animal; and it’s a practice that I think if I don’t always maintain, juggle, both of these kinds of reality I could then very easily be done in by the very kind of reparation that I use to make myself and that I hope will help the rest of the world become a better place. I want to become a better place not a person; I want to become a better place because as a person I'm going to be gone I don’t know in ten minutes or ten years. But I want to become a better place.

Robert Natkin, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, BBC: 1979

 

 

 

“Francis Bacon was conscious that he had lived all the distorted years of the ’thirties. But the violence of life was very different from the violence in painting. When talking abut the violence of paint, it’s nothing to do with the violence of war.’ It had to do with an attempt to remake the violence of reality itself'. He wanted the help of accident and chance in his paintings – by the use of drips and slips of the brush; by wiping with rags or by throwing on paint or sand or dust for texture; by adding circles and blots, arrows or whiplashes of white paint; by inserting the incongruous object or throwaway detail that marked the arbitrary and haphazard nature of modern living. To him, the production of that very great work depended on the chance of the paint.

Andrew Sinclair, Francis Bacon - His Life & Violent Times, Crown Publishers, Inc., 1993

 

 

 

“In Bacon’s new painting there Is a complex mingling of contraries. They include, in order (“We have to battle for order,” he lately said) and disorder; accident and design; science and instinct; dignity and indignity; waking and the dream. Bacon today can do what he likes with paint. He can make the naked human body gleam and glow; he can make a doorknob or an unshaded light bulb into an object of wonder; and he can paint the human eye in such a way that we reconsider the whole relationship of watcher and watched. All this comes second, one may say, to the beauty of the paint, which grows more startling year by year. But that beauty is not gratuitous. It is the servant of impulse, not the master; and nothing quite like it has been seen before.

John Russell, Art of a New Francis Bacon Is at Met, The New York Times, Thursday, March 20, 1975
 

 

 

 

“His work impressed me, his personality affected me. It was through that and talking to him a lot. He talked a great deal about the paint itself carrying the form, and imbuing the paint with this sort of life. He talked about packing a lot of things into one single brushstroke, which amused and excited me, and I realised that it was a million miles away from anything I could ever do. The idea of paint having that power was something which made me feel I ought to get to know it in a different way that wasn’t subservient. I mean, I used to make it always do the same things for me: I felt I’d got a method which was acceptable and that I was getting approval for something which wasn't of great account. Though I'm not very introspective I think that all this had an emotional basis.

Lucian Freud, The artist out of his cage, The Observer Review, The Observer, Sunday 6 December 1992

 

 

 

But the modernist Bacon was, incidentally, the last to deny the greatness of certain old masters, though he always spoke of them in painterly terms. Neither was he one of those painters who affect to believe that their art cannot be talked about and that other people (and writers particularly) cannot understand it. He came into the French pub in Dean Street one forenoon, fresh from a morning’s work and, as usual, entirely free of hangover, and told me he had just that morning discovered the secret’ of painting. A cautious Irishman, ready at all stages for temporising smalltalk, I was astonished at the directness and sincerity with which this information was imparted, but at this distance of time I cannot, alas, say in so many words what the secret was, only that it had something to do with Frans Hals and his way of painting lace.

Anthony Cronin, Life worksThe Sunday Times, 28 May, 2000

 

 

 


“Sheer omnipresence of paint is what impresses most as one enters this highly fraught space. Coloured marks – accidental splats, brush wipes, trial runs of one hue against another – rainbow or cascade over the walls, turning them into giant palettes. Another pattern of chance blobs and trickles extends in an intricately coloured net over the book and photo-strewn floor. Sticky masses of half-spent tubes, thickets of coagulated brushes rear up on all sides, amid old plates and pans to mix colour, rollers, rags, tins, and jars of every description. An old passport or a single, shinning shoe occasionally heaves into sight like a drowning man, and is lost. beyond all the innovative transformations of space and the bravura handling of paint, Bacon deals with essentials only. The human fact is caught between pitilessly bright pigment and the shadow of its own mortality.

Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: The Studio as a Symbol, Connoisseur, September, 1984

 

 

 

“I would loathe my paintings to look like chancy abstract expressionist paintings, because I really like highly disciplined painting, although I don’t use highly disciplined methods of contracting it. I think the only thing is that my paint looks immediate. Perhaps it’s vanity to say that, but at least I sometimes think, in the better things, the paint has an immediacy, although I don't think it looks like thrown about paint. But paint is so malleable that you never do really know. It’s such an extraordinary supple medium that you never do quite know what the paint will do. You see I want the paintings to come about so that they look as though the marks had a sort of inevitability about them. And yet, what so-called chance gives you is quite different from what willed application of paint gives you. It has an inevitability very often which willed putting-on of the paint doesn't give you.

Francis Bacon, Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, Thames & Hudson: 1975

 

 

 

“Bacon learned by getting up close to paintings and observing their surfaces. He looked at how paint behaved both as a substance and as a visual surrogate for all the textures there are in the world: for cloth, grass, fur, porcelain, skin. And in Bacon’s case, one might say: for chrome, mattress ticking, vomit, meat. Bacon not only borrowed from, but added to, the vocabulary of painting. He also tainted it, and made certain ways of approaching painting untouchable. Bacon’s art also contains an entire repertoire of bruises, wounds, amputations done up with soiled bandages, Nazi armbands and other paraphernalia verging on cliché. There is much blood, and a great deal of alizarin crimson. Unconvincing jets of water struggle to clean all the muck away, though the flying spunk clings on like ectoplasm, unless it's just a spatter of white paint that has fallen off a passing Miró.

Adrian Searle, Painted screams, The Guardian, Tuesday, 9 September 2008

 

 

 

“The globs of paint thrown by Bacon in their immediacy require he spectator to regress. The chance blobs and slicks of paint in Bacon’s work are formless noise. In those paintings that incorporate chance elements, noise functions to stop the paint from becoming descriptive. Bacon’s throws of paint, however, fissure he paint’s capacity for description. The throws work to disrupt paint as signal. The rake of white paint across the left centre of the canvas in Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror and the whip of white paint above the shoulder of the figure in the right-hand panel of Triptych May-June 1973 prevent the paintings from coalescing. The gobs of paint also constitute an excess to the image. They return meaning to matter, to what meaning is made upon. The noise of these throws of paint carries the painter and the spectator close to the real. These hurls of paint wound.

Nicholas Chare, After Francis Bacon: Synaesthesia and Sex in Paint, Routledge: 2012

 

 

 

In the history of art we see the ontological aspect of the picture in the special problem of the rise and change of types. Essential to an emanation is that what emanates is an overflow. What it flows from does not thereby become less. The development of this concept by Neoplatonic philosophy, which uses it to get beyond Greek substance ontology, is the basis of the positive ontological status of the picture. The original One is not diminished by the outflow of the many from it, this means that being increases. The portrait is only an intensification of what constitutes the essence of all pictures. Every picture is an increase of being and is essentially definable as representation, as coming-to-presentation. Despite all aesthetic differentiation, it remains the case that an image is a manifestation of what it represents—even if it brings it to appearance through its autonomous expressive power.

Hans-Georg Gadamer, The Ontology of the Work of Art; Truth and Method, Tübingen: 1960

 

 

 

“Paint itself as a victim: There is no reason why we ourselves should not some day be absorbed into this looking-glass, and that is the mirror Francis Bacon’s art holds up to us. Its ambiguity— and perhaps its violence, too— is born of the frisson we experience as we confront this brave new world, which fascinated Bacon himself as its prophet. One of the things we will lose in it, as he was well aware, is paint itself. A painter friend of mine, recently returned from Venice, remarked to me about how few paintings the Biennale contained, as opposed to videos and installations. What, look at a cloth canvas daubed with vegetable dyes and hung, immovably, on a wall? Titian is as far from us now as a cave dweller. Bacon, though, insisted upon paint, as he did upon the material core of humanity, distant and difficult though it had become to our perception (the difficulty was precisely his subject).

Robert Zaller, Francis Bacon's virtual reality; Francis Bacon at the Met, Broad Street Review, August 15, 2009

 

 

 

“The painterly intelligence and courage of Francis Bacon’s paintings of the late forties and up to the mid 1950s lie in Bacon’s use of his own ineptitude and his limited painterly virtuosity. He recognises the affective power of the pictorial transgressions in his stumbling facture of conventional form and space. He exploits the seductive plasticity of silver grey to black, that sense of form made by laying lighter tones onto dark. This is intelligent because of the acuity of his attention to what he is doing. It is courageous because the whole enterprise is entirely reliant on his ability to find something in the paintings that saved them from looking like the work of an under-trained painter working from photographs. That was what he was. Francis Bacon was rare amongst artists with major reputations. He did not attend art school. The many paintings he destroyed were the paintings that gave him away.

Andrew Brighton, Francis Bacon's Modernism, Critical Quarterly, Volume 42, Issue 1, April 2000

 

 

 

“Bacon is a magician, a quick-change artist. He brings off the most sudden and elusive disappearing acts and reappearing acts, fusions and transformations. The flesh slips, slurps, smears, flares, blurs, fades, evaporates, abruptly dematerialises. Legerdemain: you look straight at it and you just can’t see how it’s done, how it moves from solid to film to spook to gleam to void and back – and then breaks the picture surface in a great sticky licking whiplash gloop of gunk. All this damage’ is in fact enormously animating. There isn’t a corpse anywhere in Bacon’s work. His savage treatment is an extension, an exaggeration, of the body’s own movements and sensations and expressions. And though his use of oil paint gives him a much more liquid language, it wouldn’t be wrong to see him in the line of English graphic caricature, and the way it uses distortion, not only to play with likeness, but to inject energy and rub the nerves raw.

Tom Lubbock, All hail a vulgar entertainer: Francis Bacon retrospective, The Independent, 10 September 2008

 

 

 

“The one-sidedness of immediacy on the part of the ideal involves the opposite one-sidedness: it is something made by the artist. The subject is the formality of activity and the work of art is an expression of the god only when there is no sign of subjective particularity in it, and the content of the indwelling spirit has conceived and brought itself forth into the world, without admixture and unsullied by its contingency. But as freedom only advances as far as thinking, the activity filled with this indwelling content, the inspiration of the artist, is, as an unfree passion, like an alien power within the artist; the producing has in it the form of natural immediacy, it belongs to the genius as this particular subject of the artist; – and is at the same time a labour occupied with technical intelligence and mechanical externalities. The work of art therefore is just as much a work of free wilfulness, and the artist is the master of the god.

G.W.F. Hegel, Art; Absolute Mind; Philosophy of Mind, 1817–30

 

 

 


A characteristic element in Bacons use of chance in his painting is a white blotch, as found, for example, in Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne, 1967, Study of George Dyer in a Mirror, 1968 and Study for bullfight No.2, 1969. In these pictures Bacon throws thick white paint at the canvas: at the face of the figure, at the bull, at the centre of the painting. The resulting white blotch looks as though the undiluted paint  had been accidentally added to the painting by hand... Sometimes it remains where it landed; sometimes it is drawn with the brush to adjacent points in the picture. But first Bacon simply adds the white blotch, whether or not it fits into the painting... In Bacons explanation of the meaning of the white spots and slashes that he added to the canvas so abruptly and almost thoughtlessly, he speaks of pure accident, of instinct, and that the picture almost paints itself. He says that the subconscious is finding expression in his his work.

Barbara Steffen, Chance and the Tradition of Art in Francis Bacon's Work; Francis Bacon & the Tradition of Art, Skira, 2003

 

 

 

“His new paintings at the Hanover Gallery include four large studies, as he himself calls them, of Van Gogh striding through the country to paint a landscape and here there are few signs of any wilful obscurity. It is true that in all four paintings Van Gogh’s features, as so often in Mr. Bacon’s figures, are blurred and out of focus as if in a photograph taken with a camera which has shifted, but the effect, strangely enough, is to make the image of a doomed and lunatic artist not less but more expressive. If anyone should have left a ghost behind him it is Van Gogh and it is fitting that in these pictures he should look like a vague and momentary apparition still recapitulating his intense emotional experiences at Arles. It is also noticeable that in these paintings Mr. Bacon has changed his technique; he now uses thick and juicy paint laid on with expressionist vigour, whereas his normal method, to be seen in other paintings in the exhibition, is to paint thinly on absorbent canvas.

Alan Clutton-Brock, Round the London Galleries, The Listener, Volume 57, Issue 1461, March 28, 1957

 

 

 

“Bacon obsessively experimented with the sense of motion caused by the different ways that paint leaves the brush or the piece of cloth he often used in place of a brush. Thick strokes of paint sometimes cut through a face, partly making the shape of a cheekbone, partly severing the face like a cubist conceit. Next to or on top of this the firm slash of the brush is countered with paint applied by means of pressing and smearing it with textured fabric, such as corduroy or towelling. Large areas are left unpainted so that the raw linen acts as both colour and texture. These vital details of Bacon’s painting are not readily visible in reproduction, hence the importance of this exhibition for a first-time audience. Bacon used different kinds of paint in the same composition, such as oils, acrylics and spray paint, as well as found materials. Sometimes this seems to have had direct indexical relevance to the subject – for example, applying dust or fluff to the paint to describe the fabric of a coat.

Anthony Bond, Raw Emotional Encounters With Paint; Francis Bacon - Five Decades, Prestel Publishing: 2012

 

 

 

 

“I always hope for instance in portraits to deform them back into appearance but how often does that happen? How the images come about I just simply don’t know. You see I generally paint with house brushes which people use; I don’t use what is called artist’s brushes very much, I generally use brushes you paint the wall with and so they’re often very loaded; I always want my things to look immaculate but I want them to come about in a very arbitrary and rough way. You see, painting is such a very fluid medium that if you’re using large brushes and if you put paint on the canvas and if you turn a brush one way or another, it has a different implication and you use the implication which is the nearest to your nervous system. I don’t know what I’m doing, really, don’t think that I’m; when I’m saying this, that I’m suggesting I’m a genius, or anything like that; all I do is it just happens to be the way I work, you see; I don’t know what I’m doing but I have an overall sensation before I start the things.

Francis Bacon, Francis Bacon - Tate Gallery Retrospective, Ian Morrison: A Visual Heritage Production: 1985

 

 

 

 

 

By the late 1970s, as the Met retrospective made very clear, Bacons work was becoming glib, trite, and colour-coordinated to a decorous degree. From boasting that he couldnt do it—that was the whole point—he let it be known that he could do it, indeed had always been able to do it. Freud believes that Bacon had also lost the most precious thing a painter has: his memory, and forgotten that he had done it all better before. The elegance of the Mets installation, which worked so well in the earlier galleries, worked to the artist's disadvantage at the end. Few of the later triptychs pack as much of a punch as the explosive Jet of Water and Blood on Pavement (both 1988), which are refreshingly free of the artists formulaic figures. As if to register the extent of Bacon's decline, the Met enabled us to contrast the artist's wonderful 1944 breakthrough, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, in an earlier gallery with the garish, red carpet remake of it from 1988, which brought the show to a disheartening end.

 

John Richardson, Bacon Agonistes, The New York Review of Books, Volume 56, Number 20 – December 17, 2009

 

 

 

“For the present generation particularly reared on the super-cool art of the past decade, the experience of looking at a painting by Francis Bacon is peculiarly alarming. Bacon’s paintings suck up energy, and it is only when the spectator is emotionally sapped that he can begin to intellectualise the process–to define for himself what the painting has given out. The process is exhausting, and all but the strongest sensibilities may become numb and dazed when when confronted by his work en masse. Bacon has spoken a great deal about the role of chance in his paintings, which he tells us is crucial. It is difficult to believe however that these paintings contain a single gesture accidently conceived. Even the substance of the figures, flayed until flesh and bone coalesce, are laid on in powdery whiplashes of paint, placed with icy brilliance. The impression of flow is illusory throughout; the nameless pink blobs which flow out of the figures of a Triptych of 1972 have coagulated into contained pools, seen starkly on the smooth grey bareness of the ground.

Fenella Crichton, Bacon — Paris Letter;  Art International, Volume XXI/2, March-April, 1977

 

 

 

“I have the feeling that something very remarkable will come out of the United States. As I’ve repeatedly said, I also feel that someone like Jackson Pollock is the most overrated artist. Americans are determined to make an American art that hasn’t been influenced by anything else. I’m not sure this won’t limit them in some way. Communication being what it is, why not accept the whole thing? I’m not interested in the abstract artists. I understand that this type of painting was a logical course to embark on. But it seems to me the subject matter in abstract art, no matter how far you take it and how far you destroy it, instantly seems to degenerate into a form of decoration. And just now figurative art is the most difficult and problematic thing. Many people are trying to return to it, but what are they returning to? They’re returning to illustration and hyper realism and what’s the point of that? It’s of no interest at all. I must say that to me pop art is more interesting than abstract expressionism and hyper realism, which are ridiculous and boring.

Francis Bacon, Agony and the Artist, Newsweek, 24 January 1977

 

 

 

“Only when you can encounter a certain emptiness in yourself could you ever think. Kant says the subject must approach the art object empty. Its not just empty – I dont even have a good reason to be here. Only I end up looking at this work and I don’t know whats happening and because I don’t know what’s happening Ive lost any authority to speak about the object – I have reached a point – and our point here is to say this is not a loss but this is productive: I have reached the point of incomprehension. No longer do I have some capricious remark to say about why I like this painting. It is that I am here and I am flooded with the fantasy that I am less than nothing here. I dont understand. You cannot have an aesthetic experience of an object unless and until you reach the point of incomprehension. Every time you are tempted to grasp the object through your understanding instead of being a triumph it should be a defeat. Art belongs to the domain of the death drive. Because we never have our own vision we remain entirely indebted and damaged and damaged by others.

Mark Cousins, Damage, Architectural Association, October, 1996

 

 

 

“Since the sixties, the painting is the torture. The scale is often epic, but portraiture is always at the centre, because it states, in its most radical terms, the contradiction between the autonomy of paint and the identity of the subject, corralled, attacked from several sides at once. the contortion characteristic of Bacon's forms is a hanging on to a quarry that tries frantically to escape. There ensues a seesaw struggle in which writhing pigment achieves a succession of brief and partial triumphs: those moments when we forget it because it has suddenly become, with a kind of savage presence, a foot, an ashtray, a cheekbone, a knee clasped in that inimitable British way. And at once the image dissolves into brush-strokes. Thus painting can be said, in Bacon's words, to be and not to be.... Hence perhaps Bacon's jubilation at the disappearance of painting in our time: it proves that 'painting is just beginning'. The image will have reality only as long as we do not mistake it for reality; and when we do (when we want to touch it), the image relapses into paint. And so on indefinitely, with each picture .

 Pierre Schneider, THE SAVAGE GOD, A French View of Francis Bacon, The Sunday Times, Sunday November 7, 1971

 

 

 

“Bacons mastery of texture is evident not only in the controlled energy of such gestural distortions, but also in his rendering of the subtleties of physical objects, from the coat, hat, umbrella, and plants in the Figure Studies of 1945-46 to the floor, furniture, and rolled-up sleeves of his black shirt in Self-Portrait with a Watch, 1973. Colour and texture come together in the broad colour-field planes in which Bacon sets his figures, confirming that his paintings are essentially abstract—for the figures also are abstract signifiers of pure gestural painting, however meaty. Even when Bacon sometimes uses uncloroed raw canvas as a picture plane, he always uses it in a refined way, juxtaposing it with areas of pure color confirming that his pictures are formal constructions. Their broad, flat, impassive expanses seem to encapsulate the abstract sublime. They transcend the figures, even as they reveal their inner emptiness (their storm and tress finally signal nothing; their abstractness is a projection of the death within)—however emotionally raw, ugly, and outspoken their uncanny subject matter.

Donald Kuspit, Francis Bacon - Metropolitan Museum of Art; Artforum, Vol. 48, No.3, November, 2009

 

 

 

 

Action painting permitted Bacon to actualize his desires through the artistic media he employed. Those sections of his paintings that privilege vigorous handling, the arenas in his canvases, constituted performances. They were wrestling matches. What remains, the dry paint constitutes a record, a representation of the event. Action paintings are not to be looked at, but felt. They require a synaesthetic response. In Bacons case, the gestures need to be seen as excited. The spectator must allow themselves to be roused, stirred, moved. The paint manifests the sexual frisson that accompanied its being pulled across and then held fast against the canvas, forced to submit to the will of the artist. The tensions, the eager tingles and twitches which were experienced within the act of painting, the pleasurable grappling enacted within the arena of the canvas, are available to those who share a similar gestural knowledge and inclinations. They will be able to read their way into these works which emerge out of sexual acts, detail them, are inscribed by them and embody them. These acts will register more strongly with some than others.

Nicholas Chare, After Francis Bacon Synaesthesia and Sex in Paint, Routledge: 2012

 

 

 

“When I was sitting for him in 1953, part of the time he as looking at me, part of the time at a photograph of a rhino in long grass: he said that he found this photograph suggested ways of rendering certain textures in paint. It has been supposed by one or two writers that the model was idiotically sitting there wasting his time while the artist was depicting the head of a rhino. In fact, he was producing a head of the model, one which is fairly recognisable. However, the following day, working without a model, he dressed up the likeness as one of his Popes after Velázquez. During the next two weeks he painted seven further Popes. Some of their faces resemble that of the Velázquez Pope; none of them resembled mine. The picture I had sat for, and which triggered off a series, was thus a compound of several elements – a sitter, a wild-life photograph, an Old Master painting, plus a colour, violet, for the Pope's robes which is quite different from their colour in the Old Master painting. This is how a painter like Bacon works, not by reason but by instinct. And in life as well as art Francis put his faith in instinct: the word had an almost magical force for him.

David Sylvester, All the Pulsations of the Person, The Independent on Sunday, 24 October, 1993

 

 

 

“What is Bacon doing in these portraits? One answer is that he is searching for the essence of the person, that elusive and constantly changing element that is an individuals identity. But it is more complicated than that. The way paint is dragged in striations across the faces in certain portraits could also be a way of suggesting physical movement, or it might evoke the idea of a doubly-exposed photograph. And for every brushstroke that builds up form, another seems to shatter it, as though the portrait were the arena in which Bacon can work out his conflicting feelings of affection and hatred for the person he is painting. These heads are painted directly on the canvas without preliminary drawing, so that the image and the technique are inseparable. In Bacons own words, the brushstroke creates the form and does not merely fill it in. In his portrait Miss Muriel Belcher he applies paint with a loaded brush to create a surface as richly impastoed as in a Rubens sketch, dipping his brush in more than one colour, then dragging it in short, striated strokes of green mixed with pink. He then stains the background with two tones of thinned green paint to suggest the space in which Belcher exists.

Richard Dorment, A fresh side of Bacon, The Daily Telegraph, 22 June, 2005

 

 

 

 

“Because I very much admire Matthew Smith, I am delighted to have been asked to write something about him, although I know I will not be able to do him justice. He seems to me to be one of the very few English painters since Constable and Turner to be concerned with painting, — that is, with attempting to make idea and technique inseparable. Painting in this sense tends towards a complete interlocking of image and paint, so that the image is the paint and vice versa. Here the brush-stroke creates the form and does not merely fill it in. Consequently, every movement of the brush on the canvas alters the shape and implications of the image. That is why real painting is a mysterious and continuous struggle with chance — mysterious because the very substance of the paint, when used in this way, can make such a direct assault upon the nervous system; continuous because the medium is so fluid and subtle that every change that is made loses what is already there in the hope of making a fresh gain. I think that painting today is pure intuition and luck and taking advantage of what happens when you splash the stuff down, and in this game of chance Matthew Smith seems to have the gods on his side.

Francis Bacon, Matthew Smith — A  Painter's Tribute;  Matthew Smith  — Paintings from 1909 - 1952, London, 1953 

 

 

 

Bacon cant paint a foot or an ear or a hand. Some of the curves he used to describe physical forms are so slack they would have got him fired from a Disney workshop. So Bacon smudged and threw paint and turned forms back in on themselves and disrupted their logic, instinctively hiding his own deficiencies. These smears of paint describing swollen and distended shapes, especially in the portrait, seize attention and distract the eye from what lies between. Which is nothing. Nothing will come of nothing. And Bacons nothing isnt even a black hole, it is a break down in communication. The painting stops dead between the smears of pigment. There is nothing there because it hasn't been described or constructed or placed. The process, an eruption, sounds unpleasant, and it was; because the secret of Bacons successful work was the paint, like a gigantic eructation of pus. The Grand Guignol apparatus of screaming heads, the sides of raw meat, the smeared visages underpinned this visceral sense of horror. He borrowed motifs, fair enough, but imposed sketchily realised pictorial devices, like the frame crudely articulated to impose some sense of control over the central images sprawling like something from under a stone.

Michael McNay, Just a pile of paint and a nightmare of chic thrills, The Guardian Weekend, 2-3 May, 1992

 

 

 


“In the right-hand panel of In Memory of George Dyer, Bacon’s dead lover is framed in profile. Dyer appears cleaved in two at the chest. His mutilated trunk falls forward from the portrait and lands like a reflection on a blue tabletop. White paint is smattered across Dyer’s chest. Bacon marked paintings that held an erotic charge for him with sperm-like stains. Triptych May-June 1973 recounts the circumstances of Dyer’s death. On the left, a male figure is crouched on the toilet, the position in which Dyer was found. In the centre, black shadows seep from Dyer’s anguished figure, beneath a naked light bulb. On the right, Dyer vomits into a sink. Again, Bacon marked the triptych with smears of white paint. Bacon developed his concept of immaculate painting in his last decades. The term means, literally, spotless, but it took on an almost metaphysical meaning for him. He told Sylvester that his Water from a Running Tap, from 1982, was the most immaculate of his paintings. Art historians long considered Bacon’s final 20 years to be his weakest. Ottinger believes they were his best years, “because they appear so to me, and because Bacon said it”. What was so special about them? Ottinger replies with one word: “Immaculate”...

Lara Marlowe, Birth. Sex. Death: Francis Bacon's Tragic Vision of Humanity; The Irish Times, September 28, 2019

 

 

 

The thickly impastoed, spermatozoic streaks of white pigment which cross the bull's head and that spill across the floor can be compared not only with random secretions of bodily fluids but also with blood, thus providing a clue to what they may signify in later paintings by Bacon: the beautifully staccato splashes of white over the bull's back may have been suggested by black and white photographs of the shimmering, sunlit blood, brought forth by the thrusts of the banderillas. In 1979 his friend Eddy Batache witnessed Bacon apply one of these painterly flourishes: Suddenly he put on a glove and hurled a pellet of white paint at the picture with all his might, crushing it against the canvas. I was staggered by the force of his gesture and by the risk he was taking.... The present painting is replete with similarly bravura touches, confirming how technically adroit Bacon had become by 1969. Several small areas are left as raw canvas (the bull's horn, one of its hooves and beneath the spectators at the extreme right), the pinkish blush of the bull's flank cleverly contrasts with the glossy black surrounding it, and Bacon deliberately flicked thin, liquid drips of black pigment around the centre of the canvas as a final gesture of feigned indifference.

Martin Harrison, Study for Bullfight No.1, 2nd Version, by Francis Bacon; Sotheby's, September, 2007

 

 

 

 

“Bacon transfers the visual appearance of photographs into his art, and never more so than when he is painting freely. He has an evocative way of dabbling a dry brush, or twisting a wet one, so that, like heavily screened newsprint or out-of-focus photography, physical reality is evoked, but in a rather oblique form. In fact, Bacon told David Sylvester in a recent interview on the British Broadcast Company that to him “forms change continuously.” He improvises as he works so that a painting, even though planned in advance to some extent, may not have a predictable outcome. It is not the least of Francis Bacons paradoxes that however much he improvises in paint, he never loses contact with that blurred, gritty, yet persistently factual presence that photography creates. In a new painting of BaconLandscape near Malabata, Tangier his dazzling colour range, and emotive power of his imagery, can be seen. The landscape is sucked into a kind of vortex, and surrounded by a screen, like the canvas windbreaks they put up on Côte dAzur beaches, or, perhaps, like the pens in which, three hundred years ago, royal bore hunts took place. The forms within this arena are blurred by wind or by movement, including the evocative human-looking smear in the foreground.” 

Lawrence Alloway, Francs Bacon - A Great, Shocking, Eccentric Painter, Vogue, November 1st, 1963

 

 

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) completed about 580 paintings and destroyed many more during his working life; over 120 slashed canvases survive. Bacon’s painting technique is distinctive. Apart from the various common paint application techniques (such as brush, airbrush and dripping), imprints and the addition of sand and fibres were characteristic for Bacon. He developed and improved his method of application over his lifetime. Hence, patterns, fibres and sand found in or on his paint were studied to support dating and authentication. As a result, four of six pattern types identified on fabrics and tools in his studio were found as imprints on his paintings. Bacon’s refinement of his “pattern printing” technique is linked to periods of his working life. The earliest paintings which show any patterns are from around 1956. In contrast to that early application which looks accidental, several works in the 1960s feature obvious and well-placed patterns. During this decade, he also began to use corduroy fabric which gives a distinct pattern of parallel lines whereby thin and thick corduroy lines can be distinguished. Bacon used the impression of items into wet paint in his practice and surviving examples of fabric from his studio were investigated during this project.

Elke Cwiertnia et al, Examining artworks attributed to Francis Bacon (1909-1992) to aid authentication, Authentication in Art, The Hague, The Netherlands, May 7 - 09, 2014

 

 

 

Artworks are a priori negative by the law of their objectivation: They kill what they objectify by tearing it away from the immediacy of its life. Their own life preys on death. This defines the qualitative threshold to modern art. Modern works relinquish themselves mimetically  to reification, their principle of death. Artworks derive from the world of things  in their performed material  as in their techniques; there is nothing in them that did not also belong to this world and nothing that could be wrenched away from this world at less than the price of its death. Only by the strength of its deadliness do art works participate in reconciliation. But in this they at the same time remain obedient to myth. This is what is Egyptian in each. By wanting to give permanence to the transitory to life by wanting to save it from death, the works kills it. Art desires what has not yet been, though everything that art is has already been. It cannot escape the shadow of the past. But what has not yet been is the concrete. Each artwork is utopia insofar as through its form it anticipates what would finally be itself, and this converges with the demand for the abrogation of the spell of self-identity cast by the subject. No artwork cedes to another. This justifies the indispensable sensual element of artworks.

Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, The Athlone Press, 1997

 

 

 

Bacon today can do what he likes with paint. He can make the naked human body gleam and glow; he can make a doorknob or an unshaded light bulb into an object of wonder; and he can paint the human eye in such a way that we reconsider the whole relationship of watcher and watched. He could always fold space, and even knead space, in ways peculiar to himself. But when the “great irremediable things” are faced head-on in the new paintings he settles for a grave ordering of the given space; spare verticals and strict horizontals offset the turbulent poetry of the human images. That poetry is always rooted in fact. No matter how fragmented the figures or how extreme the distortion, those who have known them will recognize the sudden hunch of the shoulders with which Lucian Freud will pounce upon a new topic; the strange, burrowing, sideway motion with which George Dyer walked; or the way in which Bacon himself will sit sideways on an old cane chair with sleeves rolled up above the elbow and the compass needle of his attention flickering wildly to and fro. All this comes second, one may say, to the beauty of the paint, which grows more startling year by year. But that beauty is not gratuitous. It is the servant of impulse, not the master; and nothing quite like it has been seen before.

John Russell, Art of a New Francis Bacon Is at Met, The New York Times, March 20, 1975

 

 

 

“For Bacon, the paint clearly possessed essential qualities that could provoke the realm of sensation in powerful and specific ways, as he noted that there is an area of the nervous system to which the texture of the paint communicates more violently. But the painted mark was not an end in itself, to be celebrated to the detriment or exclusion of ideas, but rather was integral to the enhancement of the idea through suggestion and evocation. The prerequisite to realizing the full potential of the painted image was its synthesis with the idea which it was seeking to bring into form, ensuing that, as Bacon explained in 1953, idea and technique were inseparable, creating a complete interlocking of image and paint, so that the image is the paint and vice-versa. The risk that paint would be corrupted by the potential intrusion of a narrative twist that would reduce its force and complexity haunted Bacon, for whom the greatest art is a kind of valve in which very many things of human feeling and destiny are trapped ... something that cant be definitely and directly said. Bacon was equally alive to the medium of photography as a potential illustrative form, noting that the texture of a photograph seems to go through an illustrative process onto the nervous system, whereas the texture of a painting seems to come immediately onto the nervous system....

Victoria Walsh, Sensation and the image; Francis Bacon and the Aesthetics of Ambiguity, Visual Culture in Britain, Volume 10, Issue 3, 2009

 

 

 

“The ugliest of the 36 intentionally ugly paintings by the English artist Francis Bacon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York depicts a nude man sitting–in three panels–in his bathroom. In the last panel he retches violently into the basin, producing a garish stream of of black and blood-red oil paint. But laced across his head and shoulders is a thin swipe of white paint, like a delicate and incongruously abstract mark. Not long ago, Bacon commented revealingly on this tiny white smear: I did that at the very last minute, he said, and I just left it. For me it looked right.  This admission–backed up by the evidence in nearly all of these new paintings, which are filled with cranky smears of paint–makes it difficult to continue celebrating Bacon, now 65, as the last great traditional figure painter, as he has come to be known. In his new art, Bacon has let the deep recesses of terror and anguish for the pleasures of pure painting–the very sin he has often attributed to abstract art. The best part of the Met exhibition is the sure painterly hand at work, seen in the marvellous multi-hued swatches of pigment that swipe across the faces of Bacon's subjects, the radiant orange backgrounds, the clean, formal compositions. His subjects are as ugly as ever; his means are not. The guardian of the past has deserted to the delights of painting in the twentieth century.

Douglas Davis, Swatches of Bacon, Newsweek, March 31, 1975

 

 

 

“Bacon’s relationship with Abstract Expressionism was complicated. While he often vocalized his dislike of the Abstract Expressionists work, he also utilized some of their techniques in his work. While Bacon desired an ordered image, it needed to have an element of chance. Therefore he also relied on free marks to make his works more spontaneous. While he did not want them to look chaotic, a completely ordered image was boring. So Bacon required a balance between the two, which he referred to as ordered chance. French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze wrote extensively of Bacon’s methods and use of free marks  in his work Francis Bacon and the Logic of Sensation. In creating figures that teetered on the edge of abstraction, Bacon believed this created a certain tension which he saw as a critical component to creating sensation in his work. In using the body this way, Bacon also crushed his figures, tearing them apart in order to allow the internal forces on the body out. Here, I argue that one can turn to the writing of Julia Kristeva on the abject in order to gain a better understanding of why Bacons figures inspire such horror. Although there has been much writing on Bacon's figures, there has been no other direct connection with Kristevas theory of abjection, which I believe sheds new light on the affect of his paintings on the viewer.

Jennifer Silverman, Francis Bacon: Order, chance and the abject body, VDM Verlag, 2010

 

 

 

By looking very closely at the surfaces of Bacon’s works one can detect his extraordinary experiments with paint. Sometimes at least half-a-dozen different ways of handling paint can be seen within a small area, such as on a figure’s head. Bacon enjoyed the accommodation of chance that came with the movement of paint. As he explained: ‘… moving – even unconsciously moving – the brush one way rather than the other will completely alter the implications of the image … It’s really a continuous question of the fight between accident and criticism.’ Bacon obsessively experimented with the sense of motion caused by the different ways that paint leaves the brush or the piece of cloth he often used in place of a brush. Thick strokes of paint sometimes cut through a face, partly making the shape of a cheekbone, partly severing the face like a cubist conceit. Next to or on top of this the firm slash of the brush is countered with paint applied by means of pressing and smearing it with textured fabric, such as corduroy or towelling. Large areas are left unpainted so that the raw linen acts as both colour and texture. These vital details of Bacon’s painting are not readily visible in reproduction, hence the importance of this exhibition for a first-time audience. Bacon used different kinds of paint in the same composition, such as oils, acrylics and spray paint, as well as found materials.

Anthony Bond, Raw Emotional Encounters With Paint, Francis Bacon–Five Decades, Prestel Publishing: 2012

 

 

 

The tendency which still exists to regard Bacons paintings as the work of some kind of satanic hedonist, if not ludicrous, is simply quaint. Social and moralist taboos around human relationships and physical indulgences are no longer shrouded by the decrepit cant of 19th century humanism. To regard Bacons work as significant on such bankrupt ethical reference, is to read into them as much provocative eastern promise as you would find in a Bunny Club; it misses the point and does him an injustice. It strikes me as unfortunate, that whether sympathetic or hostile, this lack of assertion in the majority of critical opinion always revolves around the visceral aspects of Bacons imagery. Of course Bacon is a painter of obsessional images, but then in the private terms of every artists need for self-expression, so was Mondrian; so are Ellsworth Kelly and Ad Reinhardt. It is worth a few seconds thought over whose work is more of a psychiatrists ink-blot, Reinhardt or Bacon? We now all know about Freud and the auto-biographical significance invested in any visual mark; the principal can work equally well for Mondrian and Pollock as well as Bacon. Today there is really little significance in classifying various areas of art as either figurative or abstract. Communication study signifies that it is only a question of time before any figment of painterly marks can be ascribed with specific tangible meaning.

Eddie Wolfram, Rasher than Bacon, Art and Artists, September, 1966

 

 

 

If there is any one moral quality manifested in the way a painter works that painters today value above all others, that quality is a readiness to take risks. And it seems to me that Bacon has been prepared to take risks more freely and grandly than any artist since Picasso – and that this is his greatest strength. In terms of achievement there may several finer painters among his generation that include Giacometti, de Staël, Dubuffet, de Kooning, Rothko, Pollock, Gorky but I do not think that any member of it plays for such high stakes as Bacon. Ii is not only his way of working. It is also that the kind of painting he is trying to achieve is the most difficult to do now. He is trying to paint the human head and human figure not, like Dubuffet or the New Realists, by using a conventionalized sign language, but in a way that traps the fluidity of his sensations of reality. And he is trying to reconcile this submission to the dictates of the external world with a freedom in handling paint hardly less extreme than that of recent abstract painting. Bacon feels dogmatically that abstract art is too arbitrary in form, therefore mere decoration. The modern painters he most admires are Bonnard, above all, Picasso, Matisse, Soutine, Giacometti. All these painters can use commonplace subjects of no immense, inherent emotional import; Bacon's final and greatest demand upon himself is the risky portentousness of his subject matter.

David Sylvester, Enter Bacon, With The Bacon Scream, The New York Times, October 20, 1963

 

 

 

“The late Peter Fuller had little sympathy with Bacons subject-matter, which he slightingly parodies (Daily Telegraph, 28 October 1989) as lonely figures still throwing up in lavatory bowls beneath naked light bulbs, [who] occasionally... hunch together on couches for some barbarous act of congress, or be sprawled disgorging their abdomens. Nor did Fuller admire Bacons use of paint, saying that he applied pigment as if he hated the stuff, dragging it across the raw, unsized canvas which drains it of beauty and of all semblance of life. Lest we feel the homophobic boot is not well and truly slammed home he added, for good measure, Bacons technical inadequacies seem to me to be inseparable from his spiritual dereliction. While Bacon, the urbane and ultracool artist, acted out his part, his paintings give some idea of his inner turmoil and anger. His paintings of Dyer present his lover as twisted, distorted and virtually disembodied. One portrait, Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror (1967-8), shows Dyer sitting in what looks like an office swivel chair, his disembodied face, split down the centre, reflected in a lectern-like stand. On the painting are two splurges of white paint splashed across the surface reminiscent of semen defacing the image. Whether indicative of the sexual dimension of their relationship, or of the need to assert a particular personal expression of possession, even in an image, it was Bacon going public on a profound and deeply important part aspect of his emotional life.

Emmanuel Cooper, Queer Spectacles; Outlooks: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities and Visual Cultures, Routledge: 1996

 

 

 

“It is extraordinary that one of the beacons of European painting in our time should have been working in England for the last forty years. There would seem to be so little in our suburban and puritanical high culture to sustain a great artist. Bacon mixes grammars of representations. Above all he has submitted his talent as an image maker to the plenitude of painting as a medium and a culture. Submitted, in other words, to that culture of sensibility that has been elaborated through European painting. For instance, like Velázquez he has worked into darkness and used the discernible passage of the brush to evoke form. His drawing of the male form as full of a dense energy is indebted  to Michelangelo. The outbreak of hysterical rhythms has precedents in Munch and the de-idealised display of the body stretched out comes partly from Degas. Many other sources could be argued. But at base, what he has done is to master the capacities of paint's sensual presence to act upon the sophisticated eye. To do this is to submit to a seemingly unnatural language, one removed and alienated from mundane, relatively unselfconscious communication. He has submitted his imagings to the resistance of painting rather as a poet submits to the resistance of the metre. The resistance is a stepping stone. It breaks up the banality of  first conceptions. It forces translations and transformations into the otherness of a world apart. It gives and withholds meaning. A mirror with its own languages of representation.

Andrew Brighton, Why Bacon is a Great Artist,  Art Monthly, Number 88, July/August, 1985 

 

 

 

FRANCIS BACON, because he paints violent subjects and uses photographs, thin, sketchy paint, unprimed canvas, and is indifferent to the most respected pictorial conventions of this century, runs the continual risk of being called a sensationalist. Can a serious picture really be painted of a man bouncing and roaring on a bed? one wonders? But it is a question which can only reasonably be asked where there is, in a painting, evident division of purpose. Most of us are used to looking at painting whose values can in some way be separated from their subject matter; and most contemporaries are coy about being of anything; indeed, they make it clear that their imagery is not the central matter of their pictures. But if there is one single positive quality which we can point to in the pictures which Bacon is now showing at the Beaux Arts Gallery, is their wholeness. One is affected by the whole picture and on cannot say now it is this which is exciting and now it is that. Everything is in the paint: paint is image and paint is form. The levels upon which the painting works are so tightly knit that one cannot unravel them. One cannot always name the image until one calls it paint. For this reason it is beside the point to harp on the nature of Bacons subject mater, as if the pictures were no ore than particularly morbid illustrations. Their meaning is untranslatable because it resides in the paintings themselves. Its perception is simultaneous with the perception of the form. If this were not so, they would be sentimental.

 Andrew Forge, Some More London Exhibitions, Art, The Listener, November 26, 1953

 

 

 

Bacon respects art historical precedent, but risk and chance remain constants in his work, much as they figured in his biography, reflected particularly in his early compulsive gambling bouts, wanderlust, and unconventional life style. His dominant artistic concern has been to capture the instant of movement and lifes ephemera before they lose their immediacy. At the same time, he feels that he is engaged in a constant battle, more often lost than won, between the potential expressiveness of the raw material of oil paint on its support and his own refined intention to achieve the visual equivalent of Flauberts exacting le mot juste. Nonetheless, Bacon also paints with abandon, freely using rags and his hands as well as the brush. He is not beyond combining paint with random mixtures of the dust and crushed pastel that have accumulated on his rarely swept and untidy studio floor. He has always painted directly on canvas in a spontaneous and inspirational process of whipping and dragging pigment over the surface with brush or rags, or even flinging it onto the surface from a distance, often in a kind of ecstatic frenzy. His fierce emotional investment in his work, and the desperate all-or-nothing premium he places on expressive realization, however, give way to a secondary refining process and synthesis of formal structuring. Actually, it is inseparable in his mind from the original inspiration and helps him further clarify, focus, and build his repertory of images in their fascinating encounters and mutations.

Sam Hunter, Meaning and Metaphor in Francis Bacon; Francis Bacon, Smithsonian Institution, Thames & Hudson: 1989

 

 

 

Since the death of Picasso, Francis Bacon has more than any other painter provided the age with an image, in Ezra Pound’s phrase, of its accelerated grimace. The key to his work is its ambition. He has taken on the great masters of the past without their mythological resources or their requirement to record events. At the same time he has turned his back on the abstract artist’s indulgence in decorative introspection: the painting whose principal subject is itself and the fact that someone painted it. Although his subject matter, the visual impulse which triggers his attempts to fashion an image on canvas, derives from his own sensibility and is to that extent egoistic, Bacon is the least narcissistic of artists. He uses some recollection or preoccupation which is at hand, so to speak, as a prompt for an act of painting. But it is the paint alone, and what happens as a result of its being pushed around on the canvas, which can provide an image of great externality and force, influencing the viewer with a life of its own and doing this independently of the artist. Bacon is in some respects closer to being a sculptor than a painter. The background to his paintings, which are applied at the end, act as a kind of plinth for the images poised upon them. It is sad that Bacon’s eminence occasions, as is often the case with major artists, so much photographic reproduction of his work. The physical grandeur, the sensual texture of his paint outweighs the often horrifying imagery it encapsulates. In reproduction it is the imagery that tells.

Grey Gowrie, Francis BaconModern Painters, Volume 1 Number 4 Winter 1989/9

 

 

 

“It will take considerably more than mere death to stop our Modern Masters from competing with one another. We know, of course, that Bacon claimed to have little time for the New York School. Could this former interior decorator and inveterate gambler have contrived a more cutting insult than when he described abstraction as ‘decorative’, calling Pollock ‘that old lace maker’, or when he compared de Kooning’s carnivorously sensual, scary women to the figures on playing cards? And yet, for all that, looking at his paintings now, who would insist that Bacon never learned to profit from the happy accident — a thick ejaculation of paint that somehow hit the spot — or that his smudgy yet unapologetic figuration drew no courage from de Kooning’s example? The big canvases, the painterly confraternity, post-war luxuriation in that species of sensory excess that only saturated pigment can reliably deliver — suddenly the Atlantic seems to narrow, the link with France attenuated marginally by wartime and long habituation. If Bacon could kill one father, in other words, he could kill plenty more. He may have played up the differences between his art and what was happening in America at the same time, and others may have had good reason to do the same, but — well, today, looking back with the sort of clarity conferred by distance, it’s hard to be quite so sure. And indeed that’s yet another framing device: Bacon’s place in the epic struggle that once pitted the giants of American Abstract Expressionism against the School of Paris plus miscellaneous fellow travellers, tales of which now form such a colourful adjunct to the generally more prosaic history of the Cold War.

Bunny Smedley, The picture unframed: Francis Bacon at Tate Britain, Fugitive Ink, 7 October 2008

 

 

 

That there was a highly erotic component to Bacon’s handling has already been recognized by Michael Peppiatt, who has remarked that when Bacon ‘said that he ‘‘painted to excite himself’’, he surely meant: to re-create certain extreme sexual sensations’, adding that ‘it would be true to say that, at one level or another, much of what he painted is a projection of sadomasochistic practices’. In the same context, he has also written elsewhere about ‘the cunningly suggestive texture’ of Bacon’s paint.35 This texture forms part of a wider effort by Bacon to hypostatize pain as paint. Bacon’s paintings are, as Peppiatt intimated, suffused with sadomasochistic allusions. This is particularly evident in relation to the thick gobs of paint that the artist threw at some of his works towards the end of their creation, globules of pigment with a particularly marked haptic appeal. Like the ear in Head 1, they literally stand out for the beholder. Triptych (1976, Private Collection), because of its pale green ground, gives a strong sense of the mass, the substantiality, of these blobs. In the left panel, the sheer quantity of paint that Bacon lobbed onto the canvas is evinced by the bleed of oil that forms a halo around each throw of white pigment. These ejaculations should not be viewed as nonrepresentational. They look like the haphazard spatters of come stains on sheets and can be read figuratively as the residue of Bacon’s act of beating his meat. These fat spats, however, also possess an acoustic potential that gives them another layer of sexual significance. To look at these globs can be to feel the splat, the whump, of a quantity of wet paint striking the canvas. To hear the sound is to hear the state of the material.

Nicholas Chare, Upon the Scents of Paint: Bacon and Synaesthesia; Visual Culture in Britain: Volume 10, Number 3: November 2009

 

 

 

“Unlike his forerunners, Godard and Truffaut, Bertolucci has tended to avoid literary references in his films. Perhaps because of his highly cultivated upbringing as the son of a poet and film critic in Italy he has found such reminders either ‘phoney’ or otiose. And yet his work is saturated in culture—in history. In Last Tango he confronts the decline and fall of America in the last dozen or so years. It is not fanciful, I think, to see Brando’s Paul as representing a vision of America’s decadence. The genius of Bertolucci is to have harnessed this masochism to a vision. Last Tango is an elegy to the European dream of America, and it takes the form of a psychoanalysis in which the patient acts out his fantasies not to an older, wiser man but to Jeanne, a new European, released from all preoccupations except pleasure. In the course of their fitful meetings it is Paul who does the talking, Jeanne who complies, unaware of how or why he is manipulating her. Behind the opening credits are two Francis Bacon portraits—a man and a woman. The male figure sits twisted, a smear of painted flesh; like Paul, one does not imagine that he remembers very many good things. The paint, as in the calmer portrait of the woman, is lavish; the distortions of the features are not necessarily emblematic of pain or horror, but rather to do with what Bacon has called the element of accident which for him is an essential ingredient of a work of art. There may be a clue here to the puzzling combination of symbols and techniques which contribute to the style of Last Tango in Paris. The dream of the fall of America seen in the disintegration of one man calls for extraordinary subconscious resources to be applied with the greatest confidence and skill.

Julian Jebb, The Unvisitable Past— Review of Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris, Sight and Sound, International Film Quarterly, Spring: 1973

 

 

 

“Bacon’s paintings tend to be large, but not overly so, and scaled to the body. The mark of the artist’s hand plays back to us when we stand in his place in front of the canvas. Bacon’s brushwork always rewards close scrutiny; he was a master in applying paint to convey a range of sensations. From the early 1960s his colours became incredibly vibrant, often isolating and foregrounding the central motif, usually a figure, in flat fields of pure colour... What is real in Bacon’s art is never the appearance of things but always the dramatic encounter of each viewer with the fact of paint and the sensations it conveys. Bacon’s images are nearly always beautiful in spite of, or indeed because of, the violence he did to appearances in the process of transforming flesh into paint and paint into flesh. It is my hope that in looking closely at the works in this exhibition viewers can experience a physiological and personal response to the paint whereby their subjectivity overrides any conscious attempt to interpret what Bacon was thinking or feeling. This is what Bacon wanted and is what he makes possible in the way he constructed his paintings. Painting for Bacon was definitely not intended to be narrative or illustrative, or psychoanalytical or autobiographical, even though his work traces his close observation of twentieth-century images and events... The zip of white paint he often threw at the canvas at the end of the painting process was, he said, a way of introducing an element of chance that might or might not bring the work to fruition. This practice has also been invariably read as ejaculatory. As a gesture, this may well have been how Bacon felt about it as the culmination of the creative process but, again, it is not the literal story he wanted to tell.

Anthony Bond, Bodies In Paint; Francis Bacon — Five Decades, Prestel Publishing: 2012

 

 

 

“FRANCIS Bacon is 75. The Tate Gallery is giving him a major retrospective exhibition, its director has described him as “the greatest living painter”. Self-taught, he fumbled and groped his way backwards from surrealism (the ism current in his early thirties) towards Velasquez and Van Gogh, with a sideways look at the emerging strength of Graham Sutherland, learning always from paintings rather than painters. His handling of paint grew richer and more assured as the images became more complex. He always drew and defined so that the twisting and turning of the loaded brush describes the texture, form and volume, as well as the colour, light and shadow. Bacon puts down much of this painterly skill to happy accident — instinct perhaps but accident never, for the paint comes clean from the palette, on a brush of the right width, perfectly loaded for the length of the stroke, the stroke perfectly weighted and there is correction. That kind of handling is not achieved by chance. The strokes are often long and curving, elegantly reflecting the forms that they depict. He is indeed a painter’s painter and no man who has ever held a brush in his hand can fail to respond with the thrill of awe and envy to the bravura piling up of paint at one extreme and the miniaturist delicacy of detail at the others. As with Titian at a great age there is no falling away of power in his most recent work — old Titian had a trembling hand but Bacon’s is as steady as a young man’s, and the images are newly vile. Bacon is that rare thing, a painter to join the pantheon of Michelangelo and Raphael and Titian, a towering giant of his century, a living painter whose work would add lustre to the National Gallery — and that is the honour with which he should be recognised.

Brian Sewell, A painter to join the gods, The London Standard, Friday, May 24, 1985


 

 

 

“In becoming bored by something we are precisely still held fast by that which is boring, we do not yet let it go, or we are compelled by it, bound to it for whatever reason, even though we have previously freely given ourselves over to it. Being bored is neither a waiting nor a being impatient. This having to wait and our impatience maybe present and surround boredom, but they never constitute boredom itself. The result for our guiding problem of what becoming bored properly is then reads: Becoming bored is a peculiar being affected in a paralysing way by time as it drags and by time in general, a being affected which oppresses us in its own way. In becoming bored we are held in limbo, and indeed by time as it drags. To where are we held, then? To where does time hold us, and what is it we dwell upon? We find the answer to this question if we pay attention to where we wish to arrive through passing the time. For passing the time betrays to us where we want to get away from, and this is precisely that place to which time in its slowness hold us. The dragging of time proved to be that which holds us in limbo. Accordingly, becoming bored is a being held in limbo by time as it drags over an interval of time. Boredom springs from the temporality of Dasein. Boredom therefore, we must say in anticipation, arises from a quite determinate way and manner in which our own temporality temporalizes itself. We only understand profound boredom as such from out of a particular, i.e., essential boredom, and accordingly all interpretation of its superficial forms takes its lead and derives its illumination from there. Essential knowledge is possible only from out of and in an originary questioning. We can only understand that profound boredom, create room for it, in such questioning.

Martin Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, 1929-1930

 

 

 

Though the faces in these recent paintings of Bacon’s are more distorted than ever before, far less convulsion and frenzy grips the painting as a whole. The twisting figure of George Dyer or of Lucien Freud occupies its maroon dais in a calm sea of floral carpet and unconstricted sweep of pastel-coloured wall. Even the face, though it may be pushed wildly out of its limits to allow gaps and openings in the paint, is fastidiously done, with minute attention to colour and texture. This is a virtuoso exhibition, but the paintings seem much less intense in feeling than those of three or more years ago. Where Bacon’s early images of Popes and executives were fleeting and psychic, barely materialized, we are now more conscious of Bacon displaying his skill and persuasiveness in handling paint. In the “Lying Figure” of last year the bare mattress, bare walls and liquefying figure are treated in a frankly aesthetic way, and apparently with little psychological tension. Bacon has often described his aims in painting as being to “make a direct assault on the nervous system”. In an interview with David Sylvester printed in the Marlborough catalogue he quotes Paul Valery’s remark about wanting to give the sensation without the boredom of its conveyance. There must be innumerable ways of attempting to do this, but to lift the sensation out of its customary vehicle, to evade the nervous system’s protective padding, Bacon has employed his own famous method of working, ruthlessly destroying banal work and hoping in the process and by accident to discover a hidden intuitive direction. His direct assault on the nervous system was made by discovering a balance between a familiar recorded image (like a photograph) and an unstable, disoriented way of painting. The image acquired presence on the point of slipping away or being destroyed.

Guy Brett, Francis Bacon’s imagery less intense, The Times, 15th March, 1967

 

 

 

“All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music. For while in all other kinds of art it is possible to distinguish the matter from the form, and the understanding can always make this distinction, yet it is the constant effort of art to obliterate it. That the mere matter of a poem, for instance, its subject, namely, its given incidents or situation–that the mere matter of a picture, the actual circumstances of an event, the actual topography of a landscape–should be nothing without the form, the spirit, of the handling, that this form, this mode of handling, should become an end in itself, should penetrate every part of the matter: this is what all art constantly strives after, and achieves in different degrees. Art, then, is thus always striving to be independent of the mere intelligence, to become a matter of pure perception, to get rid of its responsibilities to its subject or material; the ideal examples of poetry and painting being those in which the constituent elements of the composition are so welded together, that the material or subject no longer strikes the intellect only; nor the form, the eye or the ear only; but form and matter, in their union or identity, present one single effect to the imaginative reason, that complex faculty for which every thought and feeling is twin-born with its sensible analogue or symbol. It is the art of music which most completely [138/139] realises this artistic ideal, this perfect identification of matter and form. In its consummate moments, the end is not distinct from the means, the form from the matter, the subject from the expression; they inhere in and completely saturate each other; and to it, therefore, to the condition of its perfect moments, all the arts may be supposed constantly to tend and aspire. In music, then, rather than in poetry, is to be found the true type or measure of perfected art.

Walter Horatio Pater, The School of Giorgione; The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, 1973

 

 

 

 

Bacon mixes grammars of representation. Above all he has submitted his talent as an image maker to the plenitude of painting as a medium and a culture.  Submitted, in other words, to that culture of sensibility that has been elaborated through European painting. For instance, like Velázquez he has worked into darkness and used the discernible passage of the brush to evoke form. His drawing of the male form as full of a dense energy is indebted  to Michelangelo. The outbreak of hysterical rhythms has precedents in Munch and the de-idealised display of the body stretched out comes partly from Degas. Many other sources could be argued. But at base, what he has done is to master the capacities of paints sensual presence to act upon the sophisticated eye. To do this is to submit to a seemingly unnatural language, one removed and alienated from mundane, relatively unselfconscious communication. He has submitted his imagings to the resistance of painting rather as a poet submits to the resistance of the metre. The resistance is a stepping stone. It breaks up the banality of  first conceptions. It forces translations and transformations into the otherness of a world apart. It gives and withholds meaning. A mirror with its own languages of representation.  He seems to me to be one of the very few English painters since Constable and Turner to be concerned with painting, that is with attempting to make idea and technique inseparable. This could have been said of Bacon but was, of course, said by Bacon in his much-cited tribute to Matthew Smith. But Bacon, perhaps more than any other painter, has pulled images and ways of looking derived from the mechanical means of representation into the heart of painterly sensibility. He has, in other words, conjugated the most vulgar, the most seemingly 'real' language of representation with the most sophisticated.

Andrew Brighton, Why Bacon was a Great Artist, Art Monthly, Number 88, July/August 1985

 

 

 

 

“One can only say you absorb all types of things which go into a kind of pulveriser in the unconscious and may come out as something quite different later. I was always fascinated by images, and I looked at everything. I destroyed most of those early pictures as I didnt like them, but I was very influenced by Picasso, especially the paintings he did between 1925 and 1927 0f figures on a beech. Everybody is influenced at the start — it is the spark that sets one off. I dont think it matters even if one goes on being influenced — some of the greatest paintings, like Cimabues Crucifixion, are based on what has been done before; only someone new comes along and does it better. Any painting that works today is linked to the past. In a way it was better when there wasnt so much individuality. But because today there is no tradition and no myths, people are thrown back on their own sensibility. Abstract art was perhaps one attempt at getting away from this, but it never worked because the artists made their own patterns in their own ways. That is why American art is, on the whole, boring. They want to start from nothing. I understand their position: they are trying to create a new culture and identity. But why try to be so limited? I am trying to work as close to my own nervous system as I can, but my painting is not illustrative and has no message; it is an image. If I wanted to express philosophy I would write, not paint. Sometimes I feel I am not working at all, just pushing the brushes here and there. In some of my most successful pictures the image has come through as a result of accidental movements of the brush. I believe one is born and one dies and only what one does between these two absolute points counts. Also, painting is an old man's occupation. Some of the greatest have done their best work in old age: Titian and Picasso and others. So I hope I shall go on and drop dead while working. When all is said and done what matters is instinct.

Francis Bacon, The Images of a Master by Shusha Guppy, Francis Bacon A Painter of Haunting Images; Telegraph Sunday Magazine, November 4th, 1984 

 

 

 

 

Francis Bacon bestrides this honourable tradition. Pictures, no paintings. Best of all, English narrative pictures. One must be careful here: he is of course painterly picture maker. His legions of admirers say so. Many of his admirers are painters themselves’, some very good painters; though Bacon himself, we keep hearing, was the greatest living artist, the best British artist since Turner. But Bacon’s paint is in the service of pictorial effect. The surface itself should not be scrutinised too carefully. Too often in doesn’t describe what it purports to be describing. Bacon can’t paint a foot or an ear or a hand. Some of the curves he used to describe physical forms are so slack they would have got him fired from a Disney workshop. So Bacon  smudged and threw paint and turned forms back in on themselves and disrupted their logic, instinctively hiding his own deficiencies. These smears of paint describing swollen and distended shapes, especially in the portrait, seize attention and distract the eye from what lies between. Which is nothing. Nothing will come of nothing. And Bacon's nothing isn't even a black hole, it is a break down in communication. The painting stops dead between the smears of pigment. There is nothing there because it hasn't been described or constructed or placed. The process, an eruption, sounds unpleasant, and it was; because the secret of Bacon’s successful work was the paint, like a gigantic eructation of pus. The Grand Guignol apparatus of screaming heads, the sides of raw meat, the smeared visages underpinned this visceral sense of horror. Bacon was the last and most extreme of the line of painters who followed van Gogh. But Bacon was self-taught, and unlike Van Gogh, never overcame his technical deficiencies. He borrowed motifs, fair enough, but imposed sketchily realised pictorial devices, like the frame crudely articulated to impose some sense of control over the central images sprawling like something from under a stone.

Michael McNay, Just a pile of paint and a nightmare of chic thrills, The Guardian Weekend, 2-3 May, 1992

 

 

 

 

“In Aesthetic Theory Adorno claims that works of modernist art can, in virtue of their characteristic autonomy, successfully capture and impart the shudder. Here the shudder is not just a response to primal amorphousness and undifferentiation; it is the appropriate response to the abstract nature of modern life. The shudder is a reaction to the cryptically shut, which is a function of that element of indeterminacy. So far we have seen that the shudder is not just a mimetic reaction to primary, undifferentiated otherness. It is also, and more importantly for our purposes, a spontaneous and somatic response of revulsion at pure identity. But even in this extended sense the shudder is not merely a negative response. The shudder fulfils a positive epistemic function. It is the gateway to the path of truth. It allows what is to disclose itself as radically evil. As such, the shudder is the form which metaphysical experience assumes under social conditions of total identity. Shudder, then, is a response arising from the metaphysical experience of a world without wonder. Shudder is the equivalent in the modern, disenchanted, capitalist world of the classical metaphysical experience of wonder: it is the gateway to the path of truth; but the truth to which it leads is that the world is radically evil. As the correlate of truth the shudder is has a positive epistemic significance for Adorno. Fortunately Adorno thinks that the capacity for shudder has not yet been completely extinguished from human life. One reason why Adorno values modern art so highly is that it manages to preserve the shudder even under social conditions that militate against experiences of the truth. Modern art survives its assimilation to the functional totality its relegation to mere entertainment by becoming difficult, introverted, dissonant, shocking. Modern artworks in a deliciously dialectical irony fulfil this promise precisely by delaying and withholding the promised satisfaction.

 James Gordon Finlayson, Metaphysical Experience: Shudder as Inverted Wonder; Adorno: Modern Art, Metaphysics and Radical Evil; Modernism/Modernity, Volume 10, Number 1, 2003

 

 

 

 

Bacons contrived accidentssqueezing paint into his hand and throwing it at the canvas, the use of sponges, the rubbing in of studio dust and so onallow him to pursue an alternative practice of painting to that of representation. To understand the force of  Bacons images we have to understand the way in which they undercut the regime of representation. Now this regime is described by the fact that it ties together my wish to see and what is presented to me, a unity of the scopic field and the spectator. But when the gaze as an object becomes detached from this scene, a dislocation occurs. A gap opens up—the circuit is broken. The illusion of wholeness has been, as it were, castrated. In fact we can treat Bacons images as just that—castration erupting within our wish to see, within the scopic field. One no longer has vision, but the eye lives on. The function of vision has been subtracted from the eye. The violence of sensation has squeezed out a literal essence of being, the lamella, a puddle of being. To claim that the lamella appears in Bacons work is to claim that he has taken the detachment of the gaze to its limit. The paintings are as far as possible withdrawn from the painting of everyday life, while yet capturing the appearance of a human being. The violence of the painting is the correlate of the violence of appearing. What is at stake is not violence but paint. Nothing could be more bland and obtuse than to use Bacons work as a narrative about the lamentable violences of the age. The violence which Bacon creates concerns a certain experience of the body and something to do with the horror of a too-close presence. This violence can indeed be usefully treated through the question of the detachment of the gaze. It will be that which enables us to distinguish in Bacons paintings between a violence of painting and the painting of violence. The violence of sensation can also be very powerful and the question of the violence of sensations in Bacons work is an important point.

Parveen Adams, The Violence of Paint; The Body, Journal of Philosophy and the Visual Arts, Academy Editions, Ernst & Sohn: 1993

 

 

 

There is no reason why we ourselves should not some day be absorbed into this looking-glass, and that is the mirror Francis Bacons art holds up to us. Its ambiguity—and perhaps its violence, too—is born of the frisson we experience as we confront this brave new world, which fascinated Bacon himself as its prophet. One of the things we will lose in it, as he was well aware, is paint itself. A painter friend of mine, recently returned from Venice, remarked to me about how few paintings the Biennale contained, as opposed to videos and installations. What, look at a cloth canvas daubed with vegetable dyes and hung, immovably, on a wall? Titian is as far from us now as a cave dweller. Bacon, though, insisted upon paint, as he did upon the material core of humanity, distant and difficult though it had become to our perception (the difficulty was precisely his subject). Two paintings from the Met show may illustrate this for us. In one, his lover, George Dyer, is shown, nude and from the back, sitting on a toilet. He is surrounded by white space except for the piping that conducts Dyers waste away from him and toward us: a man, in effect, shitting in our faces. In another, Blood on a Pavement, a smear of blood is all that is left of the absent figure, and the background itself is rendered as three Rothko-like panels (another appropriation from the Expressionists, despite Bacon's expressed disdain for Rothko). The Dyer portrait is, among other things, the ultimate send-up of the papal thrones; here, Bacon suggests, is where we all sit. We dont see Dyers waste, but the image makes us inescapably conscious of it: shit is the one natural reality we cant escape, however politely removed by modern plumbing, and however antiseptically white our bathroom walls and fixtures. Similarly, blood is also our trace: the one testimony to our existence when the murdered corpse has been removed from the scene of the crime. We live, and therefore shit; we die, and therefore bleed: however virtual our reality may become in between, these signatures reveal us.

 Robert Zaller, Francis Bacon's Virtual Reality; Francis Bacon at the Met, Broad Street Review, August 15, 2009

 

 

 

“This is an act without a subject: Bacons throwing down of ‘non-rational marks, those which convey the ‘mystery of fact, not the mysteries. An expropriation. ‘And you cant will this non-rationality of a mark. The moment of art production as an intentional event, as exteriorisation of representation (Hegel: Vorstellung einer Vorstellung), voluntarism (even technicist voluntarism), mimetic theories, hylomorphism, theological linear theories of art production (and their rational humanist derivations), the art work as intentional, interpretative object ... etc. These fantastic constructions fall  with the contingency of the artistic process. The artist is circuited, immanent to the production process the agent-subject ‘becomes the empty place where the impersonal affirmation emerges.  But it is in the moment or act of Bacons non-rational marks, the moment of the circuiting, that Batailles will to chance is given its full pictorial equivalent, the art-work produced in the throw of a dice. The artist is ‘sick, spilling its transcendence, emptying its site. An opening then, but not discursive, not a mouth, rather a mouth-like aperture, an osculum... For the real critical force is produced by the condition of Bacons painting: the act that is sovereign in Batailles sense, redundant. It is an act in immanent excess of itself, the figural (substantive) become verbal (impersonal)... Indifference is intoxication: Bataillean sacrifices, a gift. This is the material of Bacons pharmacy, giving access onto the sensible donation itself. Sensation and not Hammer-horror, the sensational; paint spreading the organism on a nervous system, freeing a body becoming sensation. No, the first name given to auto-immune disease is more apt to this painting: horror autotoxicus. Understanding Bacons fugitive body incarcerates it, dissimulates it; perhaps Batailles experience (non-knowledge) or Michauxs connaissance par les gouffres is the nearest one can come. At any rate, to adapt Artauds hommage to Van Gogh, to understand the body, it is necessary to give your own body to Bacon's painting.

Nick Millet, The Fugitive Body: Bacon’s Fistula, The Body, Journal of Philosophy and the Visual Arts, Academy Editions, Ernst & Sohn: 1993

 

 

 

 

Since the death of Picasso, Francis Bacon has more than any other painter provided the age with an image, in Ezra Pound’s phrase, of its accelerated grimace. The key to his work is its ambition. He has taken on the great masters of the past without their mythological resources or their requirement to record events. At the same time he has turned his back on the abstract artist’s indulgence in decorative introspection: the painting whose principal subject is itself and the fact that someone painted it. Although his subject matter, the visual impulse which triggers his attempts to fashion an image on canvas, derives from his own sensibility and is to that extent egoistic, Bacon is the least narcissistic of artists. He uses some recollection or preoccupation which is at hand, so to speak, as a prompt for an act of painting. But it is the paint alone, and what happens as a result of its being pushed around on the canvas, which can provide an image of great externality and force, influencing the viewer with a life of its own and doing this independently of the artist. Bacon is in some respects closer to being a sculptor than a painter. The background to his paintings, which are applied at the end, act as a kind of plinth for the images poised upon them. It is sad that Bacon’s eminence occasions, as is often the case with major artists, so much photographic reproduction of his work. The physical grandeur, the sensual texture of his paint outweighs the often horrifying imagery it encapsulates. In reproduction it is the imagery that tells. Like Eliots early poetry, Bacons paintings are documentaries of nervous stress. Given the era in which we find ourselves living, this comes as no surprise. What is surprising is the attempt to endow our diminished psychological circumstances with painting which can achieve the formal grandeur and beauty of texture of the very greatest old masters. These characteristics remain, in his best paintings, long after the initial assault on the system has worn off. When things work, therefore, the quality achieved is joy, which is, as Bacon said it should be, the purpose of art.

Grey Gowrie, Francis Bacon, Modern Painters, Volume 1 Number 4 Winter 1989/9

 

 

 

 

The revelation of this carefully selected, historically self-conscious retrospective of the work of Francis Bacon is the progression over the course of the artist's career from a loaded, murky painterliness, to a spare, even linear, handling. This evolution toward an evanescent thinness, even when colour is boldly uniform, goes hand and hand with his schematization of format and figures. Here Bacon's signature tortured subjects progressively reveal themselves as tropes, even clichés, of stylized suffering. Is the late economy of means successful? Certainly it is another way of sustaining the expressionist attitude at a time when its language of direct expression seems to betray it. There is the sense that the dryness of the late works may not be the result of a diminution of anguish—did Bacon become habituated to his own psyche, and thus less overtly mad, more sane?—but simply the exhaustion of artistic means with which to articulate it. Indeed, the late works look redundant, as though Bacon is pedantically driving home the predictably painful lesson life inflicts on those who expect comfort from it. The late works seem less visionary, as though Bacon, having grown accustom to his insanity, now saw it with mundane eyes. The least that can be said is that Bacon seems tired—of himself? Of the habit of making pictures? In contrast to the compulsive early works, in the last paintings he may be taking himself, and art, for granted. There is no sense, however, of a grand summing up in Bacons last works, no sense of wisdom—visual or existential—distilled from all the year of labor. At the same time they hardly constitute the whimper that T. S. Eliot thought came with the end. Rather, Bacon has become a mannerist of himself. His late works index his earlier works, but they look like a table of contents to paintings that were never made. That's the way an artist signals he's at the end of his tether, has nothing more to say: his works begin to look like an index to themselves, an index easily confused with a table of contents. Why, one wonders, is there no living work to read, and only the denuded text?

Donald Kuspit, Francis Bacon - Museum of Modern Art; Artforum, Vol. 29, No.3, November, 1990

 

 

 

 

“The practice of painting could hardly fail to preoccupy any painter, but these works centre upon painting itself in particular and distinctive ways, partly because Bacon used them experimentally, in an attempted change of artistic direction. Bacons later paintings often evoke a very common corporeal experience of dissonance, the jarring sensation of arrested motion, when the bodys weight suddenly throws itself against a movement it had been helping to impel. He would frequently paint figures caught in a twisting motion, with out-curving brushstrokes suggesting the motion of flesh, thrown outward against the restraint of hips or spine. In the van Gogh series, however, the body shapes are among the most rigid in Bacons work, despite the fluid strokes that define them, and nothing here is thrown out from the containing mass, still less escaping entirely, like excrement or an ejaculation. Through his variations, Bacon experiments with a dialectic essential both to selfhood and to painting in the tradition that concerned him: painting is something done and something seen, selfhood is active and also passive. If I say I am my body’, this entails both that I am in my actions and also that I am in a merely passive sense one (physical) body among others. In painting these figures and the flowing paint of the road, wet-in-wet, Bacon realised anew the potential of oil paint to hold in contradictory combination the properties of solidity and liquidity, the inertial and the mobile. The paintings play variations on this dualism. In a different way in each version, the figure stalled against slipping fields of colour acts as a pivot for a reciprocal movement, like that of a tracking camera, tended to the viewer. In versions II and III, the painters own passive stillness as a witness before his work casts a shadow across his vehement agency within it. Placing an apparition in the path of painterly action, Bacon slippingly paints the slipping place of selfhood, in its strange otherness. Separating act from appearance, he frames, at the crossing of perspectives, a figure whose maleness is asserted negatively, in a venture of chance.

Brendan Prendeville, Varying the Self: Bacon's Versions of van Gogh, Oxford Art Journal, Volume 27, Number 1, Oxford University Press: 2004

 

 

 

 

His own ‘teasing question’ about image-making and painterliness touches on the issue: Bacon’s prowess as a poetic inventor – starting with the matchlessly ferocious mutants of his 1944 debut – has long prompted people to will old-masterly greatness on his paintwork. The mastery of fresh skills that recharges Bacon’s art from the early 1960s – his use of contorted human forms as containers for squirming flesh paint, themselves held down within designer-tidy interiors – could possibly have been inspired by the way the young Kitaj composed on the canvas with ripped, projected images; at any rate, his working ethos seems to come into clearer focus from this time onwards. An alternative, more ancestral perspective on the nature of Bacon’s skills might be to call him a northern painter. A painter, that is, of a humanity born clothed; in this case, of a race that presents itself in suits and ties. It’s not exactly that Bacon, as in his own disclaimer, couldn’t draw. No one has had a more forceful structural knowledge of heads, and of the tooth-ringed hollow that runs through them; hence the power of his screams and his metamorphosed portraits. It’s simply that few figurative artists have got through a career with such a radically unstructured notion of what lies beneath the collar. Occasionally, he takes a butcher’s cleaver to his quasi-acephalic nudes and discovers a backbone. But for the most part, his instinct tells him that when you unbutton the tweed and serge encasing the mid-century British male, there lies revealed a rippling, amorphous flood of blubber. Unaided by anatomy, Bacon thrashes about through much of his career to find formulas to convey this judder of flesh. Short, circling swoops of the brush, topped with little blurts from the paint-tube, prove the most productive device: he gets very exquisite when he finesses them with dusted and printed pigments in the later work. He whips paint into fleshliness with this incessant urgency because the operation promises to deliver a kind of transubstantiating miracle. It offers him direct access to ‘life’ – to the essence of things, as that gets defined by a God-disdaining vitalist.

Julian Bell, Get Out; London Review of Books, Vol. 22, No. 20, 19 October 2000

 

 

 

 

“While all these devices produce an effect akin to that of a photograph, it is not from photography that Bacon has learned them. It is the late paintings of Rembrandt that have shown him how to use an extremely restricted range of colour, how to dissolve forms into space, and how to destroy the picture-plane. For Bacon’s problem is, finally, very much a painter’s problem. It is to make paint on canvas function in a way analogous to that in which ink functions on news print. From his attempt to do this derives one of the most remarkable and mysterious qualities of his work. Very often, when we look suddenly at a picture in the papers, our first impression is simply one of nebulous, blotchy greys whose meaning is altogether vague. Likewise, looking at some of Bacon’s paintings, we are conscious at first only of the paint, seeing it as some amorphous, ectoplasmic substance floating aimlessly on the canvas. It takes a little time before this stuff that is paint crystallises into an image. But as soon as it does crystallise, the once vague and shifting shapes become volumes modelled with a wonderful sensitivity and situated with extreme precision in space. The certainty with which Bacon creates volumes, volumes that are tangible, is largely due to his uncanny sense of the exact degree of tension along each form. One of his pictures shows the lower half of a human face with the mouth open in a scream which is provoked by the fact that one ear is attached to a cord drawn out taut from the ceiling of the room. What makes this image so overwhelmingly moving–at the level of tragedy, not Grand Guignol–is how vividly we are made to realise the tightness of the cord. The intense grasp of the physical reality of the situation makes us feel it is ourselves who are being tortured. This immediate sense of pain is engendered again by the way in which Bacon, in a painting of the Crucifixion, causes us to sense the tension of the stretched-out armpits and biceps. Likewise, in painting flesh, Bacon conveys the exact variations of its softness and resilience at different places. And when he clothes his figures, the paint explains precisely where and how the fabric clings to the body.”

David Sylvester, The Paintings of Francis Bacon, The Listener, Volume 47, Number 1192, January 3, 1952

 

 

 

 

“The hand ventures forth and catches hold of its goal with an inevitable share of chance or of mischance, since it can miss its try. The hand is by essence groping and emprise. Groping is not a technically imperfect action, but the condition for all technique. The end is not caught sight of as an end in a disincarnate aspiration, whose destiny it would fix as the cause fixes the destiny of the effect. If the determination of an end cannot be converted into a determination of a cause, this is because the conception of an end is inseparable from its realization; an end does not attract, is not in some measure inevitable, but is caught hold of, and thus presupposes the body qua hand. Only a being endowed with organs can conceive a technical finality, a relation between the end and the tool. The end is a term the hand searches for in the risk of missing it. The body as possibility of a hand — and its whole corporeity can be substituted for the hand — exists in the vertuality of this movement betaking itself toward the tool. Groping, the work of the hand par excellence, and the work adequate to the apeiron of the element, makes possible the whole originality of the final cause. It is said that if the attraction that an end exercises is not entirely reducible to a continuous series of shocks, a continuous propulsion, this is because the idea of the end governs the release of these shocks. But this idea of an end would be an epiphenomenon were it not manifested in the way the first shock is given: a thrust in the void, at random. In reality the “representation of the end and the movement of the hand that plunges toward it through an unexplored distance, preceded by no searchlight, constitute but one and the same event, and define a being that while being in the midst of a world in which it is implanted, yet comes to this world from the hither side of the world, from a dimension of interiority — a being that inhabits the world, that is, at home with itself in it. Groping reveals the position of the body which at the same time is integrated into being and remains in its interstices, always invited to traverse a distance at random, and maintains itself in this position all by itself. Such is the position of a separated being.

Emmanuel Levinas, The Dwelling; Totality & Infinity, 1961

 

 

 

 

“Texture forms part of a wider effort by Bacon to substantiate pain as paint. The carnal surfaces of his paintings are frequently impressed  by fabrics which play an important role in the production of Bacons ridged and  speckled, stippled effects. The results, achieved through using cashmere and cotton, can can be read as reminiscent of the skins fleeting memory of having a textile pressed hard against it. It is the handling which is the key. Bacon identified with the paint. The paintings not only evoke the sounds of sexual pleasure but also feel and smell of it. The aim of his paintings, to arouse senses beyond sight, is paralleled in comparable muscle erotica which frequently celebrates the other senses through images. The emphasis on Bacons works on desires that privilege  senses other than sight invites a queer reading of his practice. Smell is a sense Bacon particularly exploits in his work. The stench of blood often adheres to his to paintings. This is fitting given the quotation from Aeschylus which Bacon so admired: the reek of human blood smiles out at me. Blood is literally aromatic. It has a ferrous, metallic scent, one which can be detected in a works such as Blood on Pavement (1988, Private Collection.) The stink of gore is also placed in the foreground in Bacons images of meat such as Carcass of Meat and Bird of Prey and Figure with Meat. The haunches of flesh in these works opens out to our nostrils calling upon us to queasily inhale them, their scent of animal. They reek of brute bodies, reminding us of the odours that lie above and beneath our own skin. Deleuze writes that in Bacon: each time meat is represented, we touch it, smell it, eat it, weigh it. This painting seeks to return to us  an appreciation of those senses we usually suppress, senses whose complexity has become curtailed, that are too often overlooked in the everyday. It encourages us to sniff the air like a hunter from a bygone age on the scent of quarry. Bacons art is delicious in that it strives to return something of the texture of existence to us, both in pleasant and unpleasant forms, through an encouragement to engage all our senses in the reception of his paintings. The entire body responds to Bacon not just the eye and mind.

Nicholas Chare, After Francis Bacon: Synaesthesia and Sex in Paint, Routledge: 2012

 

 

 

 

“Only when a man has seen does he truly see. To see is to have seen. What is seen has arrived and remains for him in sight. A seer has always already seen. Having seen in advance, he sees into the future. What is it that the seer has seen in advance? Obviously, only what becomes present in the lighting that penetrates his sight. What is seen in such a seeing can only be what comes to presence in unconcealment. But what becomes present? The seer stands in sight of what is present, in its unconcealment, which has at the same time cast light on the concealment of what is absent as being absent. The seer sees inasmuch as he has seen everything as present. The seer is the madman. But in what does the essence of madness consist? A madman is beside himself, outside himself: he is away. We ask: away? Where to and where from? Away from the sheer oppression of what lies before us, which is only presently present, and away to what is absent; and at the same time away to what is presently present insofar as this is always only something that arrives in the course of its coming and going. The seer is outside himself in the solitary region of the presencing of everything that in some way becomes present. Therefore he can find his way back from the “away” of this region, and arrive at what has just presented itself, namely, the raging epidemic. All things present and absent are gathered and preserved in one presenting for the seer. The seer speaks from the preserve of what is present. He is the sooth-sayer. The seer is the one who has already seen the whole of what is present in its presencing. In “to have seen” there is always something more in play than the completion of an optical process. In it the connection with what is present subsists behind every kind of sensuous or non-sensuous grasping. On that account, “to have seen” is related to self-illuminating presenting. Seeing is determined, not by the eye, but by the lighting of Being. Presence within the lighting articulates all the human senses. The essence of seeing, as “to have seen,” is to know. Knowledge embraces vision and remains indebted to presenting. Knowledge is remembrance of Being. Knowledge is not science in the modern sense. Knowledge is thoughtful maintenance of Being's preserve.

Martin Heidegger, The Anaximander Fragment; Early Greek Thinking, 1975

 

 

 

 

“On one wall, trial paint marks rising, spreading, like fountains, trees, of colour. Beneath them so many old tins, each holding a thicket of brushes, that for a moment the sight does not seem credible. This sudden dense bristling , clogged in dried paint cakes—astounding archive of the tools of the trade. Friends and lovers, lusciously deformed. Flesh slipping, seized in the obscurity of love. Ancient panic-joy of bodies embattled, their contours blurred into one. A meaty frame coming down on the same, its just completed heave left hanging liked a shucked-off skin. Muscles succulently acquiesce. One head broken in a shriek of pleasure-pain, the other hard-death-masked in desire. Pressed deep into the milky sheets, quickly, urgently, seeking the inner core of self and other. Or humped in a field, figure slipping over figure, their edges woven with green lights from the field. Lover burrowed into and eclipsing lover. The instant lived over again. Love here in the grass room, the blades sprouting between the heavy velvet drapes. A luxury arena  bedroom field, best of both—with the bare canvas earth showing in between. Friends and lovers, memory of embraces. Pinned to a mattress or strung up over their shadows. Bodies brought to an extreme, held at the last point of longing, the shudder before collapse. Everything leading up to this one instant—passion point, death point—then falling away. Here it comes—hold it there—its gone. Triptych. And wait to begin again. Manflesh with manflesh. The turn of the face beneath, opened in your own despair. His scream, himself slipped out of himself. Thick-knit flesh falling on the bone. Lover come back. Picture and meat. Last look before dissolve: the smile-snarl sliding off to dry into dust. Manflesh melting, bruised and shadowed, shot through with crimson, faced with black and diseased green. Pulled through love, through each moment's death to be re-made. Opening old wounds. Old loves, past friends. Renewing the pain. He into them, they, he, into us. Cannibal eyes, lapping up the dry grain, the quick exciting smear of paint and another's hurt. Scrape of nail, chalk on board, urgent on the alerted nerve. Direct hit: the horror and sumptuousness going in together, the blood flowing ruddy beneath the condemned skin.

Michael Peppiatt, In Francis Bacon's Studio, Art International, No. 8, Autumn, 1989

 

 

 

 

“By action Nietzsche means it in a kind of fairly extended way — let us say — kind of having and fulfilling a project: he quotes with enormous admiration Goethe. When Goethe observes that nobody does anything grounded by conscience, the point that Goethe is trying to make is that once you start doing something the sign under which its done falls away. Right. For Goethe no action fails to engage in a sense the entire mind of he or she who undertakes it. So whatever prior motives one has for doing something — or to turn that the other way round — whatever subsequent rationalizations one might make in ones own favour about why one did it — as one does it — one does only it. Right. In this sense no action in and of itself can ever be kind of virtuous because in order to complete an action — in Goethes terms and in Nietzsches  kind of reading of him — one has to throw everything else away. To enact is to throw aside conscience altogether. And therefore if one has to look for the sources of an action — one has to look for them other than kind of in the field of conscience. Nietzsche takes then the analysis of consciencelessness of all action as also being, in some sense, a model for action. Right. That is to say anyone who wishes to under take something must in some sense forget. At the extreme case they must actually, importantly, forget why theyre doing it; they must forget why theyre otherwise their capacity to do it would be undermined. What is at stake for Nietzsche in his elaboration of Goethe is precisely the capacity to act which depends upon a radical form of forgetting. An act with passion requires that you, in some sense, forget the object of passion. Really what it opens up is what you might call a kind of non-intellectualist conception of action which completely opposes the normal kind of Western way of looking at an action. The kind of dynamics which are unleashed in an action depend therefore — if not on some kind of absolute forgetting of everything — they depend upon a kind of inspired absent mindedness: its not about being focused on something — far from it because in some sense its objectless — its a quality of a kind of internal dynamic — it is the unleashing of passion where we suddenly find ourselves not terribly acquainted with the internal structure of a passion because were so used to giving those descriptions in terms of their objects.  

Mark Cousins, Radical Forgetting, Architectural Association, London: 8 November, 2002

 

 

 

 

“The mystery of how facts can be made is an accident because you can analyse the thing as far as you possibly can but finally the mark that you make is something you dont know whether its going to make the image that you want to record or whether it will; whether this fact that youre trying to record can only be made out of accident because once you know how to make it — or what youre going to make — you make an illustration of the fact. Now, this is a very complex thing to talk about but, of course, Matthew Smith, to some extent, was near that; perhaps all the painting that in the last few hundred years that I have most admired has been made that way; if you look at the thing Constable made of the leaping horse, the study of the leaping horse, this was made by continuous marks which, if you analyse the marks, they were anti-illustrational, but they were marks which brought the facts more immediately on to the nervous system. Abstract painting is a form of escaping the issue because abstract painting can never, even at its very best, can be never more than lyrical, charming and decorative; it never, finally, unlocks, like great art can do, unlocks the valves of feeling by this attempt to record the fact. You see what any artist needs today is a profound technical imagination; its a technique by which he can reset the trap in which the image that he wants to record can be trapped again. Well, you  see now if you know how to record it you illustrate it so the great recoding of fact today can only be made through accident and the painter himself, of course, you may say, in a sense, its a accident out of which he finally chooses the marks which he wants to leave, and can remake the image. On a superficial level, photography can take over from an ordinary simple recording of appearance; what is more difficult is how can you remake appearance, how can you bring this appearance, this thing you long to trap, how can  you bring it over directly on to the nervous system, more directly, and more immediately than any illustration of it can ever do, or that any photograph can ever do. The technique has to be reinvented. The moment the technique is invented it dissolves again because the moment it is known it immediately takes on an illustrational appearance so the technique of recording has to be, all the time, remade so its like a continuous invention, really, to record a fact.

Francis Bacon, Interview with Julian Jebb, BBC Arts: 1965

 

 

 

 

The classical artist is preoccupied with realism. Bacon is absolutely for realism, only he would argue that now photography has made reportage redundant you need psychological realism as well, the shadow as well as its fact. He is adamant that he is not an Expressionist painter. He believes in truthfulness rather than effects. The affecting, even upsetting, quality of his work comes partly from what Michel Leiris has called his exhilarated despair ... the painful but lyrical disturbance felt by all those who, living in these times of horror spangled with enchantment, can contemplate them with lucidity. It also comes, more prosaically, from what he would see as his failure to win the fight between the raw material of oil paint and the minds eye. When Bacon does win his paintings are both awesome and tender, moving in the highest and most humane way. Yet even the violent distortions of his figures are implicit in their own flesh as well as in oil paint and the painters need to trap the visual aspects of personality by memorising it. He does not paint from life. He was teaching himself oil paints correspondence with the destiny of the observed world; the Courbet road to nature. His brush-strokes are rapid (he does no preliminary drawing) and blur into one another. So originates the suggestion of flesh poised, like that of M Valdemar in Poes horrifying tale, on the edge of instant putrefaction. Facial features are blurred in Bacons way as if they and the pigment from which they are formed had been pummelled into the final image. (This is often literally the case, since he paints with rags and his hands as well as with brush.) But across the whole width of the face is a superimposed white drip or tache of paint extraneous to the image yet formally devastating in the way it cancels an already pretty terminal environment. Stripped of its associations, the picture has the vibrance—even the prettiness—of colour which early in his career Bacon found in a medical text book about diseases of the mouth. Bacons surgeons aesthetics and sang-froid take some getting used to. They are worth it because they are bound up with his special lucidity of purpose. Look how close oil paint comes to the stuff of life, he seems to be arguing. You are used to it with clouds and hills in landscape painting. Why not get used to it with the body? And if the painter is lucky, impulses of memory and desire may allow him to manipulate the stuff so as to trap elusive and temporal personalities, and our feelings about them.

Lord Grey Gowrie, Francis Bacon: Artist of Endgame; The Sunday Times, May 19, 1985

 

 

 

 

Bacon works in the tradition of a Renaissance master, and is only a painter — no etchings, lithographs, finished drawings, or designs for the theatre. His subjects are not pretty things for the drawing-room, and the scale of his work suggests that he makes no concessions to the private patron... In more complex structures Bacon may introduce two profiles in a single head, facing in opposite directions, without destroying the integrity of the whole — it is a kind of re-thinking that Renaissance painters allowed themselves in their drawings, when looking for a more effective alternative to a first idea, but with Bacon it is not an alternative but an added dimension. All this might suggest that Bacon is a draughtsman. In the mid-40s there was indeed a drawn quality to his painting, common to Graham Sutherland and a host of English painters of that generation descended from the romantic tradition of Samuel Palmer, but within a decade his handling of the loaded brush had become so assured, and so powerful, that he was no longer dependent on the careful delineation of an element to give it effect. Now it is all pure paint, and the length, breadth, loading and pressure of a single brushstroke contains all the information about the structure, character and movement of the thing painted, as well as its more obvious colour and texture. Bacon has claimed that this painterly skill is often accident — I believe it is as accidental as Alfred Brendel playing a perfect scale. All this is the more remarkable because Bacon is self-taught; he has no academic background, and his only technical training came from his friendship with Australian painter Roy de Maistre, but he has an intuitive and analytical eye that enabled him to learn direct from paintings. Inspired first by Picasso of the late 20s, his work refers openly to Van Gogh, Velázquez, Rembrandt, Grunewald and Giacometti; these were not merely the sources of his powerful imagery, but of his techniques. From them he derived the strength to create some of the most ferocious images of this century, keeping open, as he said, ‘the line to ancestral European painting while producing something that comes across as entirely new’ — when he paints the themes of crucifixion, it is as a commentator on the beastliness of man and not as a believer in Christianity, yet his paintings have all the conviction of passionate Christian belief... But look at the paintings: any man who has handled a brush, or has an empathic response to the action of painting, must find in Bacon’s pictures an astonishing mastery. Among post-Renaissance artists he is a great painter; in the wilderness of post-war art he is the towering giant.”

Brian Sewell, The Loaded Brush, The Listener, 10-16 November, 1984

 

 

 

 

“Bacon would often squeeze paint onto the door or walls of his studio and then press fabric into the pigment which he would then print the canvas with. Bacon's varied handling  has been recognized for some time yet it is not interpreted in relation to articulations of sexual difference. The fine patterning of colour produced by applying paint by the way of fabric, however, contrasts markedly with the thick strokes of paint that parallel it. The delicate traces of colour left by pigment-soaked textiles connote intimacy whereas the swift smears of thick paint come across as more aloof. The masculinity of the Abstract Expressionist, their painterly aggression, manifested itself by way of a brief yet brutal interaction with the canvas. In the paintings by Bacon that make use of textiles to enhance their tactile effects there seem to be two different registers of handling at work. The touches that involve the use of fabric can be gendered as feminine. The impasto, however, denotes masculinity.

It is noteworthy that Abstract Expressionism is in Bacons mind  when he discusses paints contingent potential. This is because his exploitation of chance leads to aspects of his paintings resembling those of the first generation of the New York School. The chance blobs and spatters of paint appear similar to Pollocks drips. The thick globs of pigment Bacon threw onto his paintings can be read as an exaggeration of the aggressive techniques of the Abstract Expressionists. The chance throws of paint frequently look like they are the product of ejaculation. This is doubly the case in a work like Triptych (1976, Private Collection). In the left panel of the triptych there are two thick blobs of white paint. The sheer quantity of pigment they are formed of has caused oil to bleed outwards into the light green ground forming dark circles. The effect resembles come as it seeps into a bed-sheet. The contingent chucks of paint that Bacon adds to his painting represent a hyperbolic performance of Abstract Expressionist technique. They form a parodic enactment of its masculinist values paraded as dirty laundry. Bacon's aligning of Pollock with a lace-maker, a fabricator of textiles, demonstrates that he perceived the mismatch between Pollocks macho posturing and the delicate outpourings of his drip-paintings. These dainty actions spoke to the London artist louder than the words of the critics. It fits well with Bacons other proclivities, the enjoyment he took in being beaten and whipped. Action painting permitted Bacon to actualize his desires through the artistic media he employed. They were wrestling matches. What remains, the dry paint, constitutes a record, a representation of the event.

Nicholas Chare, After Francis Bacon Synaesthetics and Sex in Paint, Routledge: 2012

 

 

 

 

“A discussion about how paint operates and behaves is extremely important in locating reasons for its continuing relevance, and for that reason, Bacon’s analyses during his interviews with David Sylvester (2002) remain pertinent. Although Bacon eschews abstraction and is at pains to discuss his figurative intentions he is, at the same time acutely aware of the visceral effect which a material like paint can potentially arouse, and how it can become a potent vehicle for expressing emotion. Through his own appreciation of how emotive the material of paint can be ‘in itself’, Sylvester maintains that ‘the thing that’s difficult to understand is how it is that marks of the brush and the movement of paint on canvas can speak so directly to us’ (Sylvester 2002: 58).

It is the transformative power of paint in the construction of such typical images that continues to make painting so valuable and resonant. Bacon describes the difficulty of this because as any painter knows, it is sometimes problematic to reason out why some passages of painting ‘work’ or are more effective than other passages. Often it is a matter of instinctive feeling rather than a process of logical reasoning. Bacon talks about this being the difference between what he terms as ‘paint which conveys directly (i.e. onto the nervous system) and paint which conveys through illustration (i.e. which is prosaic, dull and meaningless)’ (Sylvester 2002: 18), and that,

It is something to do with instinct. It’s a very, very close and difficult thing to know why some paint comes across directly onto the nervous system and other paint tells you the story in a long diatribe through the brain. (Sylvester 2002: 18) Here, the acknowledgement of the importance of ‘feel’ for paint and of the instinctive knowledge which derives from familiarity with the material, is seen to take precedent over and above any kind of logical reasoning thought process. The sensory responses for the painter and for the viewer must be activated immediately or else it will not be effective. If one has to rationalize the process or to somehow explain the procedure or ‘story’ to oneself, then the painting has basically failed.

There is a belief here that to be successful, painting must touch the nerve of the body, must engage with the body and that this can only be manifested through the material itself. The notion of embodiment would suggest that the material becomes the body itself, in a process akin to transubstantiation. In order for this to occur in practice there needs to be a conjunction of technical awareness and imagination the feelings towards things and objects of the world which are not only ‘seen’ but ‘felt’ bodily, and so strongly that it can bypass the intellectual, rational side of thinking altogether.

Bacon’s quest for painting might appear to be an existential one, a lament and nostalgia for the passing of time with the realization that, for the painter, the possibility of cheating time and death with the material certain[1]ties of pigment is, at least temporarily, a possibility.”

Michael Jarvis, Francis Bacon and the practice of painting, Journal of Visual Art Practice, Volume 8, Issue 3, 1 December, 2009

 


 

 

 

“How often do we feel about art what were supposed to feel? I can only answer for myself and I would guess that its something like two times out of a 100, which may sound a rather depressing strike rate but seems to me a quite bearable ratio – or, at least, a realistic one. And I dont mean by this that the other 98 encounters are worthless, because theyre not. They can be full of interest or diversion, or even confirm a long-held prejudice, which is always satisfying. What I mean is that they don't result in that compulsive swoon of pleasure that a lot of writing about art suggests is the natural state of affairs when we get it on with an artwork, and that a lot of enthusiasts for culture like to imply they’re getting on a regular basis. Its possible, of course, that Im just culturally anorgasmic, but I dont think so. I think people quite often fake it, noisily pretending to a climax that they haven't actually felt.

Still, its very reassuring when it happens. You know that the organs of appreciation are still operational, and the very rarity of the event gives it an added thrill. It happened to me last week while walking round the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Arts exhibition of Francis Bacon portraits. This was prime territory, it seemed to me, for the faked orgasm. Bacon is (still) in vogue, and now getting to that stage where its clear that vogueishness has nothing to do with his reputation. So, you expect to encounter words such as “wonderful and “dazzling and “breathtaking – with their familiar accompanying anxiety that your breath wont be taken and you won’t be dazzled. And for one or two rooms, that's how it was. Its a fascinating show, thoughtfully laid out and full of arresting paintings, but it wasnt until I came to Bacons Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror that I felt that the art was doing the lifting rather than me.

Its not an entirely typical Bacon portrait, this one – isolating his lover in what looks like a circle of light and revealing his profile to one side, in a strangely angular mirror. But what caught my eye was a single long arcing brushstroke that Bacon has put above the figure. In spatial terms, its ambiguous. Is it a glint of light on a curving transparent screen in front of the figure? Or does it mark the top edge of the concave curve behind him? Or is it simply there to balance the composition (which it does very effectively)? Whats most thrilling about the line, though, is not its teasing indeterminacy (it may not even reproduce in a newspaper picture) but the way that it has been marked out in one swift sweep of the brush – a swing of the arm from one side of the canvas to the other. It was done with such briskness that the paint couldnt keep up. It has broken and thinned at various points, returning sharply at the edges of the mark –perhaps as Bacon rolled the brush in his hand and squeezed the paint to the edge of the bristles.

There is another striking paint mark on this canvas – an ejaculated gob of white paint that splats across the lower part of the figure, and seems to offer a rather literal example of Bacons ambition that his paintings should leave “a trail of the human presence... as the snail leaves its slime. But, perhaps because of its slightly callow suggestiveness, it isnt a patch on the controlled curve above it, which is a real human trace, not a simulated one. There was something about it that was very exciting, and, for me at least, it suddenly clarified the rest of the exhibition, as if everything had popped into focus.

The distinct feeling in many Bacon portraits that the image of the person lies somewhere behind the paint – that a resemblance has been worked over (sometimes as a boxer will work over an opponent) – makes more sense if you think of the brushstrokes as physical gestures. They arent just the record of a visual impression, or an attempt to replicate it on canvas. Theyre a record of Bacon imaginatively touching that face – sometimes tenderly and sometimes aggressively. What fantastic strokes they are, too – sometimes like a whiplash across a cheekbone, sometimes a gentle brush, as of fingertips smoothing out an eyebrow. And if youre in the mood, as I was, they are genuinely thrilling – an overworked word that, every now and then, is the only one that will do justice to a reaction thats not just about the brain.

Thomas Sutcliffe, It's alright not to be unmoved by art, Voices, The Independent, Friday 26 August, 2005

 

 

 

 


“SPEAKING ABOUT that wide-open mouth which is one of his trademarks and since antiquity has served as the mask of horror, Francis Bacon says: “I wanted to make the inside of the mouth as beautiful as a Claude Monet.
From mouth to Monet might stand as a summary of the twenty-seven-year trajectory illustrated by the 110 pictures now at the Grand Palais. There can be little doubt that Bacon wished the exhibition to be read this way. Retrospectives in an artists lifetime are usually self-interpretations; the emphasis on recent work underscores Bacons current concerns. And this concern explains his eagerness to be seen in Paris, the city where Bacon's central problem was posed for the first time a little over a century ago: the fatal rift between paint and reality. The indissoluble association of  destruction and construction which makes these pictures masterpieces is due to "a chance conjunction between actual living and art, as Bacon says.

In the Forties, chance fell his way practically all the time. Had one not known about the previous decade of experiment, of which practically no testimony remains, one might ascribe Bacon's early achievement to beginner’s luck. Or again to (if the word may be used in such a connection) paradise not yet lost. Paradise, for the modern painter, is not knowing that there is no paradise: that paint and reality are incompatible. This awareness differentiates Manet from Courbet, and Bacon's work of the Forties from that of the following years. For now the incompatibility will out. The canvases of the Fifties are marked by the dropping away (as of some Atlantis) of the middle ground on which painting has built since the Renaissance: the postulate that pictorial signs can signify reality. They display a painful divorce between literal image and the subtle curtain of paint. Velázquezs Pope and Eisensteins nurse have in common that they are taken over wholly; paint does not change, but veils them. But now an unbridgeable gap has opened between subject and paint. The most important thing about pictures like “Man Kneeling in Grass (1952) are the intrusion of this unspeakable void and Bacon's desperate attempt to qualify it.

Asked why he put a hypodermic needle into one of his figures, Bacon replied (and the answer sheds light on one of his favourite themes, the Crucifixion): It was to nail the painting to reality. Of course, aggressivity is a useful prerequisite for any would-be realist, but the violence in question here no longer belongs to the artist and to the subject represented: it is the violence of representation. Modern paint is the ghoul, not Bacon. This, however, is because the essential—the conjunction between actual living and art—is more than ever left to it. Despite all precautions, reality slips through paints fingers; it must be grappled with, pinned down again and again. The contortion characteristic of Bacons forms is a hanging on to a quarry that tries frantically to escape. There ensues a seesaw struggle in which writhing pigment achieves a succession of brief and partial triumphs: those moments when we forget it because it has suddenly become, with a kind of savage presence, a foot, an ashtray, a cheekbone, a knee clasped in that inimitable British way. And at once the image dissolves into brushstrokes. Thus painting can be said, in Bacons words, to be and not to be.

The network of relations spun by Mr Russell is so dense that the reader is sometimes inclined to forget the disruption which is the very sign of any original oeuvre, especially in a case like Bacons. But perhaps it is the critics task to tie the Gordian Knots so that the artist may cut them. More dangerous would have been the temptation to dissolve the work into its contexts; but Mr Russell is immunised against that by his unfaltering attention to what goes on in the studio (and one understands why the painter lets him in). He has written, about being and not being in painting, some pages which are as crucial as they are rare in writing on art. For they deal with arts most constantly suppressed truth: paint and reality cannot mix. This is the real predicament, and it is so unbearable that only a few artists—and only within the Western tradition—have built on it. From certain Fayum portraits, through a lace-collar by Velázquez and a beach by Constable, to an asparagus by Manet, they constitute, it seems to me, Bacons real lineage. Others have seen the rift and opted for one side or the other: abstract paint or literal reality.  What makes Bacon frightening is not his subject-matter but the fact that, in his practice, he shows art and actual living to be unmixable and inseparable. The Council of Chalcedon, in AD 458, thus defined the nature of Christ: I can think of no more apt definition for Bacons painting.

Indeed, his fascination with the Crucifixion may well be attributed to the fact that Christianitys central mystery provides the pattern for the mystery of painting: reality must allow itself to be put to death by paint in order to be resurrected as image. Hence perhaps Bacons jubilation at the disappearance of painting in our time: it proves that painting is just beginning. The image will have reality only as long as we do not mistake it for reality; and when we do (when we want to touch it), the image relapses into paint. And so on indefinitely, within each picture. Or rather, in that small section of the picture where the identification is attempted. The rest is frozen in expectancy, waiting for the chance conjunction to occur. Tertullian called this period (those glacial three days before the Resurrection), refrigerium interim.  No artist has given us a grander vision of this ghastly moment of suspension, which is the Christian legacy  to our post-Christian age. The great areas of colour, stilled by nocturnal brilliance, should clash, but do not. They are petrified while the dice are rolling.

Pierre Schneider, A French View of Francis Bacon  THE SAVAGE GOD, The Sunday Times, 7 November, 1971

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                            The Ontology of Paint

 

 

                                                                                            

                                                                                                                                                           Right Panel detail of thrown paint from Triptych 1974-1977 by Francis Bacon

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ontology of paint

 

The ontology of paint kindled and fermented, formed and thrown in the abimages of Francis Bacon cannot be understood through either crude ‘common-sense’ nor nuanced ‘critique’ because the paint has its own language as the artist had repeatedly stressed. For Bacon, we simply cannot talk about painting because paint does not talk like we do. For Bacon, the paint of being is also the being of the paint, which has 'a life of its own'. Paint speaks through its language not through our language. Paint speaks sensations. The aim of paint is to give sensation. The aim of life is to give sensation. The aim of all life is sensation. Sensation is ontological. Paint is ontological. There is no logic of sensation. There is no logic of paint. Ontology is non-logical just as painting is non-logical. Ontology and Painting thus cannot be understood logically and intellectually. Ontology and Paint are necessarily non-intellectual and anti-intellectual. Being is not thinking. Paint is not thinking. Being pulsates. Paint pulsates. In Rembrandt, Fragonard, Van Gogh, Soutine and Bacon in particular the pulsations of the paint become the pulsations of the portrait of the person as thereby the work reaches a primordial plenitude of an attuned and attained absolute-jouissance revealing the Real where we witness the Real of which Lacanians and Žižekians and Derrideans cannot come (off) to attain.

Bacon does not ‘represent’ being but presents being: the pulsating primordial paint is thus prior to representation having nothing to represent. Bacon’s paint is the pure ‘presentation’ of being before being a re-presentation of the ‘human-being’ which are animal beings for Bacon because for Bacon there are no human beings as such. The primordial presentation of the paint in the abimages of Bacon undermines our ‘common-sense’ assumptions about the retarded regime of realist representations revealing just how unreal photorealist painting really is and, indeed, how just how uncannily unreal photographic representation is. By necessity, the art critic cannot write about Bacon’s paint so resort to dull descriptive literal (narrative) interpretations that are as absurd as they are meaningless and often their ‘criticism’ unwittingly reveals their right-wing heteronormative conservative homophobic moralism.

 

 

 

Paints Being; Bacon & Pang

 

Paint comes into Being through the Artist. The artist gives being to the paint whose being remains dormant until its is birthed by the artist who brings the paint to the there to be-there as paint-there being-there. However, very few artists can bring oil-paint into being-there as the da-sein of the oil-paint just as few humans have being to-be-there for a body-there is not necessarily a being-there for not all humans are there as beings just as not all paint is there as being as being-there which is why the da-sein of the human and the dasein of the paint are rather rare today. We have witnessed a retreat of the human-being there and just as we have witnessed the retreat of the oil-paint there. The being of the human and the being of the paint are hardly anywhere about today since dasein is diminishing all around the world today with the being of the human and the being of the paint no longer being-around and about.

For Bacon the paint has to be fresh in order to be at all and this freshness is its wetness as being-the-paint-in-itself-for-itself-as-itself as a jettisoned-jouissance. The existential question of paint for Bacon is to be or not to be paint and for the paint to be paint is to paint outside of illustration (which always lacks being: illustration and photography are necessarily non-ontological which is why photography and photorealist painting paradoxically never looks real). Bacon sensationed: ‘What has never been analysed is why this particular way of painting is more poignant than illustration. I suppose because it has a life completely of its own. It lives on its own, and therefore transfers the essence of the image more poignantly.’ The contemporary ‘old master’ portraiturist Ruben Pang’s ‘particular way of painting is more poignant than illustration’ because it ‘lives on its own’ ontologically.

 

 

The Unreality of Hyperrealist, Superrealist and Photorealist Painting

The utterly uncanny thing with photorealist painting, with hyperrealist painting, with superrealist painting, is its utter unrealness, is its unpaintedness. With so-called realist painters’ such as Roberto Bernardi, Robert Bechtle, Luigi Benedicenti, Robert Cottingham, Mike Dargas, Robin Eley, Richard Estes, Audrey Flack, Ralph Goings, Gottfried Helnwein, Joongwon Charles Jeong, Richard McLean, Yigal Ozeri, Denis Peterson, paradoxically, nothing ever looks real because the paint is deliberately negated as appearing unpainted and so does not live let alone live ‘on its own’ because the paint is non-ontological: the paint is deliberately devoid of painterly dasein; the paint has no beingness, the paint has no thereness; the paint is daseinless and therefore these ‘painters’ are not realist because reality never comes across to us in such a clinical-sterile sharp-focused way at all; after all, no one has ever looked really like a photograph of themselves. Unwittingly, photorealist painting, and hyperrealist painting, and superrealist painting always looks’ just so unreal and so one really has to ponder, and to really wonder, why this is so. Yet the realist pastel paintings by Kyohei Sakaguchi look so really real because they are not all pristine and polished like photorealism and hyperrealism and superrealism but raw and rugged, rough and ready like reality.

Unlike the far more modern and radical real realist painter painters such as Rembrandt, Titian, Velázquez, Fragonard, Constable, Turner, Monet, Van Gogh, Sargent, Corinth, Nolde, Soutine, Auerbach, Kossoff, Bacon, Pang where the paint of being-a-being is there as being-there alive-there as a radicalised realism which is really real reality in being there ontologically as living paint living there and not as representation; unlike the negated paint of the photorealists, the hyperrealists, the super-realists, who are actually, in fact, highly intricate-illustrators of high-resolution photography where the skill is to look just like a photograph: Yet a photograph is not at all realistic.

 

 

Bacons Paint

Bacon’s Paint came into Being in 1950 and throughout the 1950s Bacon’s paint was working toward the negation of illustration where the paint is the form, and not a filler of form; and ended painting proper by 1970. Of course our common-sense’ tells us that Bacon had been painting before 1950 and after 1970 but scarce-sense’ tells us that Bacon actually began Painting as paint branded as his own being his own way being his won style as a becoming of the paint as being Bacons Paint as that paint which belonged to Bacon alone as his own; the last painting passage being that white sprinkling semen-spirit slash in Triptych August 1972. That Bacon painted before 1962 and after 1972 is not in doubt but rather that paint was lacking the presence of the paint that was the poignant-pulsation Bacons Dasein; and where Bacon was able paint with paint being-paint-for-itself as in itself by painting beings rather than illustrating beings. Anyone can illustrate being; not anyone can paint being; the problem is to paint being outside of illustrating being: this is the real challenge to the painter today of the painter of today for the painter for today.

Bacon’s perfected painted paintings are: Head of a Boy (1960), Paralytic Child Walking on all Fours (1961), Crouch Nude (1961), Head - Man in Blue (1961), Figure Turning (1962), Study of Portrait of P.L. (1962), Seated Figure (1962), Figure with Two Owls, Study after Velasquez (1963), Study for Portrait on Folding Bed (1963), Turning Figure (1963), Study for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes on a Red Ground (1964), Study for Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1965), Crucifixion (1965), Study for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes on a Blue Couch (1965), Study for a Portrait (1966), Study for Portrait of John Hewitt (1966), Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966), Study for Head of Lucien Freud (1967), Two Figures on a Couch (1967), What distinguishes the Dasein of Bacon's paintings of the 1960s is appearances of the animal condition and the alien condition where there is no human condition there. Bacons particular Style emerged in 1963 producing the finest works of his chequered career as Bacon was to stop painting entirely by 1980s where the paint has dried up and died up and completely lost its Dasein even if old Bacon had not quite lost his being though yet some say towards the end that he was not there anymore; most of us die before we die ontologically speaking because our Dasein often dries-up and dies-off before we do; we being our body that is.

Bacon’s art-brut ab-paint releases the primal-shudder of the abject-sublime. The primordial-paint activates a shudder-sensation dreaded-directly to the nervous system bypassing the intellect. The abjected-abpaint sends a tingling down our spines before our minds know what is happening, before our intimidated intellect analyses its assault and appearance. Yet of course the intellect and that means here usually the intellectual cannot grasp this abthing that is always already the before the advent of the intellect operating outside of intellectual initiation and even outside of intellectual-intuition. Bacon frustrates and annoys the intellectual (art critic) who hates to be assaulted by the abject that-thus operates outside of intellectual-analysis and intellectual-assassination and just cannot grasp-to-grip paint-in-itself-for-itself-as-itself; and so again resort to inane intellectual narrative (descriptive) readings as a furtive foul-play strategy-tactic to avoid the abpaint at all costs. For Bacon’s paint is the abpaint that thus is the abimage that then initiates-instigates the sublime-shudder. The shudder is a mindless experience as the dissonance of dread Dasein, our-bare-being-there, as the naked-nerves, as the musical-muscle: With Bacon, we hear the abpaint with the body before we see the abpaint with our eyes but we do not see that abpaint with the empirical-eyes but rather with those extra-empirical eyes; as well as the eyes of the body which are the ears and the mouth, which are the penis and the vagina, and not forgetting the nostrils, and which always see much more clearly than our eyes that are blind to the abject and the abjected; and thus the abpaint as the abjected abject, touches us and moves us musically, muscularly; Bacon’s abpaint is so profoundly musical despite Bacon himself not being musical, not having a musical ear. The thrown or abjected abpaint assimilates itself with the primal-memory of the wounded-body that is the fucked-body: to fuck is to wound and to wound is to abject being ahead of itself where painting or fucking are of that exacting economy of our abjecting-ahead of ourselves outside ourselves outside our bodies becoming an abeing-abimage primordial-presentation of our-originary dread-dasein: In the beginning we were paint.

The primal-shudder of the abimaged-abpaint produces the abject-sublime. Bacon’s brave and bravura abpaint has ontological analogies to the real being of classical music making sounds out of silences and silences out of sounds and by both being non-illustrational and figurative because classical music is non-abstract which is why we can identify with it in an instant instinctively unlike abstract painting which is necessarily non-identifiable because the human-being and the animal-being and the alien being are non-abstract: We are not abstract whatever we are beingwise. Bacon’s terrorist-technique disseminates a dasein-dread as well as an abaesthetic desire to return to our originary primordial-being: our reptilian being and our animal-being as we all were well before our initiation (interpellation) into the invention of the being-human revealing our being-animal, revealing our being-alien: Bacon rightly reveals us to be non-human animals after-all uncannily akin to those animal-beings done by Degas and Picasso who rawly recorded women being wild animals (attuning and attaining to our primordial ‘animal condition); women’ are attuned to being animal (being true); whilst men’ are attuned to being human (being lie) which is the evil of being because to be human is to be evil; Bacon being woman-man was the true-lie of the evil-good’.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                    

                                                                                                                     Detail from centre panel of Francis Bacon’s ‘Triptych’ inspired by TS Eliot’s ‘Sweeney Agonistes’ (1967)

 

 

 

 

 

Sublime-Shudder of Primordial-Paint 

 

Paint is Being. But very few painters allow paint to be or can make paint be. Most painters negate the being of the paint which is why they are not painters of paint: they wish to hide the actual living being of the paint as if they had painted without paint.. Many painters maybe called painters but they do not know the paint as being that paints as the being of the paint being the paint-in-itself-for-itself. Paint is presentation. Paint presents. But most painters today make representations through non-painting negating the painterly being of the paint to speak for itself as itself in itself for itself. Bacon began painting in 1960 and ended painting in 1970 and by painting we mean where the paint is image in itself for itself. The abthink’ of Sartre is identical to the ‘abpaint’ of Bacon so understanding of either comes from understand both as being-action in the world where idea and image are actions, where paint and think are actions acted upon as material-manifestations of being where words and paints are always already actions of presentation as a pulsating pure presence. Bacons abpaint does not represent reality rather Bacon s paint presents reality: is real is the real as paint-being-in-itself-for-itself as the paint-being is a primary-originary ontology: Titian, Velázquez, Rembrandt, Hals, Turner, Constable, Van Gogh, Corinth, Sargent, Nolde, Soutine, Bacon activated the actual real being of oil-paint as paint-dasein as ontological-paint which is why their paint is always so afresh and alive and looks like it has just been painted: now. To paint means to paint the now to be now means to paint now forever now for what is painted is now as the now of the paint always now just now right now. And the now knows of no time, just as abpaint knows of no time, just as abart knows of no time, just as the artist knows no time. Very few painters know how to make paint now. That is to allow paint to be always already now before and after all other nows whilst being now before the now to come, before the now to go, appearing painted right now.

Bacon’s paint releases the primal-shudder of the abject-sublime. The paint activates a shudder sensation directly to the nervous system bypassing the intellect. The abpaint sends a tingling down our spines before our minds know what is happening, before our intellect analyses and grasps any object. The primordial-shudder is a mindless-sensation as the dread-dissonance of Dasein, being-there, as the music of-as music of muscle: we hear the paint with the body and the abpaint taunts us us musically, muscularly, treats us musically, muscularly, tweaks us musically, muscularly The abpaint assimilates itself with the primal-memory of the wounded-body which was of our being born.

Paint presences. Paint presences being. Paint presences being present. Paint presents the presences of being as being-present. Paint does not represent. Paint does not represent anything. Paint does not represent anybeing. To make paint represent is not to paint. Paint is always already paint-being-for-itself as being present as itself as being paint. To paint means to be. To paint means to be present. But most that nominate themselves as painters do not in actual fact paint per se as such for the economy of representation is necessarily the negation of the paint as painting-for-itself as itself-is where the representations are the ruination of the being of the abpaint as it is itself no longer allowed to be itself. Representation and Illustration are the arch-enemies of Art for art as being is that which is always already primordial-presentation originating before the invention of illustration which is the human for what is illustrated is the always human’, as that human that says: I am only human; that which in fact doe not exit; which is why your insipid and insidious interpellation into your literal-likeness is your literal-lie if you like. 

Painting is always necessarily, and so importantly, a kind of non-intellectualist conception of action because the painter must paint without consciousness in the sense that the painter and sculptor does not know and cannot know consciously what they do; if they do, however, that are no longer painters or sculptors but inane illustrators illustrating some conceptual idea which is always alien to painting and sculpting which is not thinking. Bacon always worked in a dense fog, a thick cloud of sensations when painting not knowing how to do it or what would happen and that is what is so fresh, so alive, so immediate. The painter always begins and ends without thinking; thinking is solely for contrived conceptual art and conceptual art is far too conscious, too contrived, too thought out. As the Unthought, Painting is a non-intellectualist action initiated in a smog of sensations. The economy of painting is so utterly other to the economy of thinking just as the economy of writing is so utterly other to the economy of painting which is why there can be no writing on painting and which is why we cannot have that thing of art writing.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                         .

                                                                                                                                              A dreadful detail of Figure with Two Owls, Study after Velasquez (1963)

 

 

 

 

 

Paint as Mood

 

Paint is Mood. Paint is moody. Paint has moods. Bacon could be in a bad mood before painting and when painting. Bacon paints moods more than anythingelse, more than anybeingelse. Bacon is the painter of moods. Bacon was, after all, extremely moody and could change moods in a split second. This makes Bacon Heideggerian to the core. Bacons moods of painting are those three Heideggerian moods: from boredom, to anxiety, to dread; for through boredom, anxiety and dread Bacon is able to operate outside of himself and outside of conscious awareness which is so lazily and easily interpellated into literal illustration. Boredom, anxiety and dread throw us out of ourselves where we are not there anymore abjected ahead of ourselves aiming ahead at the extra-empirical of non-illustrational forms where vision is no longer that of sight but that of sein that of being as the vision of being is not the vision of the empirical eye but the extra empirical unseen by the seen eye of inane illustration that so lazily interpellates the They into assuming what appearance is. Profound boredom or radical anxiety initiate-instigate Bacon to take risks to throw chance to do anything other than the illustrational which is necessarily conservative and so antithetical to invention to reinventing realism which was Bacon was after after-all. Boredom and anxiety released Bacon from the constraints of consciousness of being self-conscious into being without conscious control as in boredom or in anxiety we are a non-conscious jettisoned-jouissance abjected ahead of Da-sein arriving at the Real in Itself.

Bacon paints Paint as paint presencing the being of paint as a pure-presence of immediate-sensation by passing representation and so does not represent but presents paint-being as being-in-itself-for-itself aimed at an other who identifies with that otherness of the paint which is nothing but being paint in itself for itself as other and as other paint is the shudder as the primordial-shudder of being alien to the human which is what when we identify with the thrown-paint we are identifying with the alien-other which is the sight-site of seeing the other than ‘the human’; for the condition of the paint in Bacon is of the alien condition, utterly alien to the human condition which is out of condition for there is no human condition and the alien-abpaint of Bacon reveals that there never was a ‘human condition’; and the throwing of the alien-abpaint reveals the abmeaning of the abpaint in the ablanding of the paint where the paint-semen strikes the canvas-skin revealing streaking-being as blobs of beings steaming being-there. We will identify with these white-wads of whipped double-cream paint without really knowing why for they give us a shudder whilst also wetting our alluring abysmal appetites for desiring dread-dasein which is, after-all, the abject-sublime. Bacon's brave-bravura art-brut raw-abpaint thrown-there is an actual-real revelation of the Real there.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                                                      Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer Talking, 1966

 

 

 

 

Bacons paint is pleasure.

 

It is not possible to make preparatory drawings for the accident-chance enhanced nonillustrational way Bacon handled oil-paints: stabbing, smearing, brushing, throwing; there simply would be no logic in making drawings as preparations or rehearsals for Bacon's unprepared or unrehearsed paintings. Drawing is largely the pencilled-in-practice of consciously knowing-what-you-are-doing whilst painting for Bacon is the subconsciously not knowing what you are doing. Bacon had such a dreadfully diversely versatile vocabulary of painting performativities that one cannot say that Bacon had a technique as such, rather, Bacon had styles, Bacon had constellations of infinite ways in which to make the paint live as being for itself; Bacon always wanted the paint to have an immediate living freshness about it, a vibration, a pulsation, a sensation, through a Baconian-Heideggerian thrusted throwness.

Bacons paint is pleasure. Bacons paint is in pleasure. Bacons paint as pleasure. As a pure pleasure. But a primal pleasure that has both an ontic-identification and a psychic-identification in us which abstract painting cannot have because in abstract painting there is no identifying point of ontic-identification or psychic-identification because we are not abstract that is we are not decoration and abstract art is decoration on dasein not dasein in itself as itself as it is. Bacons paint comes-off as pure-pleasure as being-in-pleasure as paint for paints sake as pleasure for pleasures sake for the pleasure of the paint for the the paint of the pleasure. Bacons paint is a pleasure. As an attaining and as an attuning to absolute-jouissance where the image of pleasure is attained and attuned in an abpaint as pure pleasure, as pure being, as the Real, attained to in the pleasure of paint, as the eternal-return of the coming-off of pure-jouissance where the wet-paint of ejaculated-pleasure is eternally-preserved as the instant-image of eternal-pleasure: Yet what both the Them and the They inanely nominate as horrifying and terrifying, and, as menacing and suffering, in Bacon is simply the abject-sublime abpleasure of the paint as an attained-attuned absolute-jouissance which is the Real-in-itself-for-itself-as-itself as a pure-presentation of abpleasure-abpaint. Bacon presents. Bacon represents nothing. Which is why we cannot write about the paintings of Bacon; for when we do naively attempt to write about the paintings of Bacon we all end up writing in cringe-making clichés about the human condition.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                

                                                                                                                                                     Jean-Honoré Fragonard, French, 1732 – 1806, Young Girl Reading, c. 1770

 

 

 

 

 

Radical Fragonard, Reactionary Saville

 

Fragonards paint is pure pleasure. Fragonards paint is pure-jouissance. Always fresh. Always fast. For Fragonard, like for Bacon, the paint has to be fresh and fast; like for Sargent the paint has to be fresh and fast like for Corinth and it is this fastness freshness of its nowness that makes the paint so immediate so now and so timeless and thus non-illustration because the now of the timeless operates outside of illustration. Fragonard could paint the ear in a non-illustrational manner and an eye in a non-illustrational manner yet Saville cannot. Thus: Fragonard is far more modern than Saville which makes an absurdity of the so-called ‘history of art’ revealing that art has no history as such. Fragonard is far more radical than Freud because Freud, like Saville, still remained rigidly ‘interpellated in that regressive retardation of illustration. Bacon and Fragonard would exhibit well together just like Bacon and Jawlensky would exhibit well together just like Bacon and Picasso would exhibit well together. But Bacon and Matisse would not exhibit well together just like Bacon and Giacometti would not exhibit well together as they are so ontologically poles apart and antithetical to one another. Yet Bacon gets coupled (con)fused with Giacometti; just like Bacon gets coupled (con)fused with Becket due to some sort of supposed-assumed existential’ entwinements.

For Bacon the paint has to be fresh in order to be at all. Ergo, the freshness is its being-ness wet-ness whereby the ontological-otherness of the ‘paint-being’ is the paint ‘in-itself-for-itself’ (Sartre). The question of paint for Bacon is to be or not to be paint and to be paint is to paint outside of illustration, a form that lacks being for Bacon. Bacons paint works most when it is fresh most and moist most; Freuds paint does not have a Dasein because it is far too dry s a result of being far too mannered and too laboured, too heavy, too turgid. Savilles Paint, Freuds Paint, Kossoffs Paint, Auerbachs Paint tastes far too dry to come into Being and thus cannot come to be lacking-leaking those wet-wound jouisance juices that initiate-instigate paint to-come to-be by being-wet we witness with: Rembrandt, Sargent, Monet, Marquet, Corinth, Soutine, Bacon. Bacon just like Rembrandt knew very well that the paint has to remain wet with instant-immediacy in order to shine-sein, t0 glint-geist. Rosetta II 2005 by Saville is pure pastiche painting pretending to be painted with its carefully calculated and contained drips and dashes with a sort of static spontaneity where all is contained and controlled within the contours of illustration with eyes and the nose and the mouth illustrated and not painted. Why is Saville so enslaved to illustration? Fragonard was far more radical than Saville yet again showing to us all just how absurdly nonsensical the (mis)conception of art history really is because 18th century portraitists were far more modern than 21st century portraitists (apart from that poignant Pang).

 

 

 

 

                                                                                          

                                                                                                         Bacon's Paint: The Thrown Presence of the Real: A detail from the right-hand panel of Three Figures in a Room 1964

 

 

 

 

Paint is

 

Paint is Naked. Paint is non-narrative. Paint is non-linear. Paint is ahistorical. Paint is atemporal. Paint is now. The raw rude nude paint manifests mindfully the essence of appearance as a pure-presence presenting the pulsations of the person outside of illustration where what is presented cannot be read in a literal way but in a primordial way where our body reads the sensations of the paint through its own sensationing; so thus identifying with the ripe otherness of the paint as a sort of primordial mirror-image of itself before the becoming of our identifying  as being-human for Bacons primal paint is our being before the human which is why there is no such thing as the human condition (whatever that maybe) in Bacons paint which is utterly other than being human. The I of the human cannot identify with the eye of the alien condition of abpaint and thus for Bacon there is no human condition and yet the art critic, being human, cannot see the alien abimagery of Bacon by always assuming that-they them-that are all human; for, after all, before all, after all that, the art critic is only human, after all, after none, before none.

Paint is Will. Paint wills. Paint leaves its Will. Paint paints its Will. Paint plants its Will. The painter has to Will the Will of the Paint and to Do this the painter has to Will to lose the Will of the painter in order to order and ordain the Will of the Paint to be Will and this Will is its Being as a will-to-power as a will-to-paint as paint-being-in-itself-for-itself whilst recognisable as identifiable yet identified as otherwise than being-human for being-paint is being-alien. Bacon wanted to reinvent realism through the being of paint. Bacon wanted ‘to get the essence’ of our being that is alien to the literal-likeness of the being-human (that is what we are not after-all). For Bacon the paint is the Lacanian ‘real’ where the reality of the paint is the very tough raw roughness of being otherwise to the human that had never ever even ever come to being, come into being, to begin with, to end with, as it were, as it was, as it is.

Bacon paints our primordial ‘reptilian condition’ and not an ahistorical ‘human condition’. Indeed: writers, commentators and critics of Bacon constantly, repetitiously, and inanely use the banal cliché of the ‘human condition’ as being the ‘meaning’ of Bacon’s abimagery; in point of fact, the actual abworks of Bacon, in being-in-and-for-themselves desiccate the classical, pictorial image of ‘the human’ and deracinate us from our foible fuck of futile fuckness.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                        

                                                                                                             Bacon’s Paint: All the Pulsations of a Person: A detail from the left-hand panel of Three Figures in a Room 1964

 

 

 

 

Symphonic Sound(bites) heard in Bacons Paint

 

Bacon’s paint has to be heard live in concert and not in reproductions to be really felt so understood; just as symphonies have to be heard live in concert and not in recordings to be really felt so understood: the living presence of the paint akin to the living presence of the sound has to be experienced in the flesh to get that raw and visceral intensity and immediacy of which our watered-down and anesthetised reproductions and recordings can never ever achieve. Listening to Vaughan Williams 6th Symphony intensely conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen made one realise just how close the orchestration and composition is to the paint orchestrated and composed by Bacon in the mid 1940 to the mid 1950s. Indeed: Bacon is far closer to composers such as Britten, Walton and Vaughan Williams than to the contemporary composers so often associated with Bacon. For when we watch documentaries on Francis Bacon they are often accompanied by composers such as Elisabeth Lutyens or Iannis Xenakis or Pierre Boulez. Vaughan Williams 4th Symphony (1935) and Vaughan Williams 6th Symphony (1944) both sound uncannily like Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) in their monstrous menacing moodings of dread dissonances; hear-here Francis Bacon shared the same organismal orchestral pulse palette as Vaughan-Williams.

Paint is in Sound. What does Bacons paint sound like? Bacons paint sounds like no other painters paint. Bacons paint sounds: grainy, gritty; metallic, mainly percussive, timpani, bass-drum, but also composed of a large string section; throbbing double basses; a carpet of strings; and pointed shrill woodwinds; a full symphony orchestra sounding Wagnerian and Mahlerian, sounding Brucknerian and Straussian, as well as Berg, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Shostakovich. The timpani thwacks and timpani thuds are those Dark Ovid discs we hear nailing the form firmly as those grinding-grounding dreadful-devices that hold-hard; gravitational pulls, sucking you in, holding you down.

Being is disclosed to us in paint-being-in-itself-for-itself that is at the same time at the same being image-being-in-itself-for-itself where paint and image are one as a unity of a revelation of being-abimage as being-abpaint where the image is the paint and the paint is the image as image-being-paint as paint-being-image and this is the genius of Bacon who was only able to paint-image image-paint in this utterly unique way between1960 and 1970. Of course we know very well that there are some paintings before 1960such as the Man in Blue seriesthat have this unification of abimage-paint as abpaint-image; but Bacons utterly unique and suave seductive Style had not yet arrived.

Bacons Style emerges in 1963 and it is materially manifest in Study for Portrait of P.L. from photographs (1963) which is arguable one of  the greatest of all Bacons paintings where the paint pronounces in profoundly primordial sounds and is incredibly close to the sounds created by Schoenberg, Berg, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Pettersson to name the obvious where those dark stabs have the sensation of timpani and percussion where we can hear the primordial sounds of the paint coming through because Bacon was a profoundly musical painter as a composer of paint sound-scapes despite himself openly admitting to Michel Archimbaud of not really having a musical ear. Like  Study for Portrait of P.L. from photographs (1963), Figure with Two Owls, Study after Velasquez (1963) displays these dark-discs that are actually timpani thwacks nailing the form, nailing the subject, suturing the subject into the sound of timpani and these dark-discs are also black-holes activating a gravitational pull as a sucking in, suturing of self to sound; so we hear these paintings as well as see them. In 1963/64 Bacon was painting at his very best.

Bacon is an orchestral composer of the economy of paint never over-orchestrating the paint like Freud, Auerbach and Kossoff do where the paint is far too congested and claustrophobic and heavy textured thus losing its dasein altogether for the paint cannot come into being because the paint has not been allowed to be for Freud, Auerbach and Kossoff do not know how to let the paint be in itself for itself as they work on it to death by negating the paint altogether where there is no immediacy of the paint but rather a mannered turgid ploughing of the paint, of a sexual assault on the paint, as a sort of monstrous molestation of the paint as a mindless masturbatory-manipulation.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                    

                                                                                                                                                                             Figure with Two Owls, Study after Velasquez (1963)

 

 

 

 

 

Francis Bacon, Glenn Brown, Frank Auerbach: Outside of Time, Outside of Illustration 

 

When paint becomes illustration it becomes dead and so non-ontological as well as non-psychological as we witness with the inane-illustration of Freud, Saville and Hockney where the paint has no life of its own because it cannot come to live on its own because the abpaint has not come into being in the first place despite pertaining and pretending to-be da-sein there is no abpaint-being-there; so therefore there is no being-there of the paint-there and we tragically witness that paint-not-being-there in Bacons late nonpainted paintings where-there is no abpaint-being-there anymore simply because: there is no Bacon being-there anymore; for Bacon actually died in 1972. Bacon’s Study of a Bull (1991) was not his last painting but, rather, his last non-paining as painting at an end, as life at an end: Bacon was already long dead when non-painting last Bull: Study of a Bull is a study for as a rehearsal for the End of Painting that refuses to come to an end; that cannot paint the end of painting that cannot end. Glenn Brown presents to us painting before the end of painting as as painting after the end of painting. Glenn Brown illustrates the wet History of Western Painting without ever illustrating the wet History of Western Painting where the dead painters of the past become the living painters of the present as the history of the past made present made future.

Paint cannot be-known only thrown, stabbed, slashed, smeared, streaked saved in a state of pure-being as being-paint and nothing but a being-paint as paint-alone all alone as if it had a life of its own as Bacon stated for paint does have a life of its own owned by the paint alone and as a painted you have to let the paint be just as a sculptor you have to let the clay be and interfere with it as little as possible where the less you do the better which is why the more you work on the paint the more you murder the paint as we witness in wetless Freud, Auerbach and Kossoff where the laboriously-layered paint is a congested-congealed murky, mannered, muddiness unable to breath unable to pulsate for the paint has no pulse to be. Glenn Brown has a genie-genius to redo-undo this laboriously-layered cowpat-paint propagated by Auerbach in his Auerbach homage-pastiches. Glenn Brown illustrates and illuminates the paint present and past masters without invoking illustration which is rare for our contemporary realists; glorious Glenn Brown has a gracious genius of painting the past-time as the present-time and yet all-the-time-not-in-time. Therefore, in the future, Glenn Brown should be auctioned in Sotheby’s and Christie’s Old Master auctions, and not in their Contemporary Art auctions, because Glenn Brown is certainly not a so-called conemporary artist’.

To paint is the was of the always already been painted, had been done, had been painted always already yet as already always afresh as abfresh as the that just having-been-painted-there-just-then and then just now then at any moment now just now just then just where the was  became the is which is why painting ontologically speaking is already always timeless already always wet where aborigin of abpainting has happened as the primordial-eternal-return of that paint coming back all over again that has always already come to be done, already always the done, just done now, done to come, just come-into-being-paint, just coming-into-painting-being just the painting of the coming of being-painted just being-paint-there. Glenn Brown, unlike Jenny Saville, paints outside of illustration whilst paradoxically illustrating paint with out illustrating the paint thus we have a living-deading ontology of paint utterly unique in portraiture. Gleaming Glenn Brown clearly-ambiguously comes both just before Frank Auerbach then and just after Frank Auerbach then being both before-being and after-being yet not being nothing at all then.

 In Head of J.Y.M. II, 1984-85, Frank Auerbach operates outside of illustration, operates outside of time, akin to Bacon and Brown, where the past and the present and the future are rawly recorded welded withinin the ever-lasting eternal-now such is the presence of their paint; even more remarkable in Brown who invokes illustration initiations without ever falling into illustration, as we witness with the dryness of Saville ,who has no time for paint having no time now to paint since there is no presence in Saville because there is no wetness of presenceness there in Saville yet with Bacon, Brown and Auerbach we witness the wetness of the paint even if brocade Brown paradoxically comes across as looking like dry paint it is ontologically wet with time now since the now is always the wet which never dries out whilst with Freud the paint is never wet but dried out died out as congested and congealed collapsed time. The genuine genius of Glenn Brown is exquisitely executed within the economy of juxtaposition where Brown can be exhibited alongside Velázquez, Rembrandt, Fragonard, Auerbach and Bacon feeling utterly at home with each one of them. Burnished Brown remains well welded wet within time so thus never dries up over time always being wet in time with other artists whilst at the same time being out of time all the time by not being in on time.

 

 

 

The Economy of Juxtaposition

 

Yet as a rule, on the whole, artworks, being abartworks, are abject, are abjected, all-alone-in-the-world-out-the-world-out-of-the-world, not being at home in this world preferring to be left alone out of this world being left all alone on their own. Artworks, being antisocial and autistic, are not people persons as an artwork is not a people person. Artworks despise and detest people. So artworks do not like being exhibited alongside other artworks as artworks have nothing to say to one another as artworks have nothing in common with one another. So rarely do any artworks actually work being together when juxtaposed together exhibited together being there together.

Whilst Michael Peppiatt is arguably an excellent curator certain artists just do not go together, just do not work together,  just do not belong together; such as Francis Bacon with Alberto Giacometti, such as Frank Auerbach with Tony Bevan. Here the economy of juxtaposition uncannily exposes the awkward alienation at work here since Bacon and Giacometti are so utterly at odds with each other ontologically, temporarily and aesthetically; just as Frank Auerbach and Tony Bevan are so utterly at odds with each other ontologically, temporarily and aesthetically. Such juxtapositioning in exhibitions unwittingly expose the bland weak aesthetic poverty of Giacometti and Bevan.

Bacon does not get on with Giacometti, just as Auerbach does not get on with Bevan. And Bacon does not get on with Moore and yet Bacon does get on with Sutherland because Sutherland, like Velázquez and Bacon, operates on the tightrope edge between illustration and the real which is rather rare. Exhibiting Bacon juxtaposed with Sutherland makes perfect sense ontologically and aesthetically despite their differences in dealing with their realisms.

But Bevan is an awfully bad illustrator; an appallingly bad illustrator of art who illustrates heads and faces in an extremely crude cartoonish way and so one wonders why Bevan is even accepted as an artist today; one is simply dumbfounded why a total non-entity like bland Bevan could even be exhibited juxtaposed with Auerbach who is arguably our greatest living painter. Bacon and Auerbach can be exhibited juxtaposed together because they are economically-ontologically belonging together just as Bacon and Jawlensky are economically-ontologically belonging together. And the unusual and unpredictable economy of juxtaposition operates in a non-logical (or a non-historical) way because Bacon could be juxtaposed with Vermeer if carefully curated; just as Bacon could be juxtaposed with Fragonard if carefully curated: but curators today do not have the insight or imagination to do this largely because they do not have any instinct about art like David Sylvester (whose sycophantic eulogising obituaries were much longer than most artists' obituaries which says so much about our veneration of the art critic).

Another painter who would work well being juxtaposed alongside Bacon is Edward Hopper yet in theory this may seem absurd, may sound absurd my seen absurd, yet on a spacial-temporal ontological-level they are akin and so would actually pair well together. Yet another painter who would work well juxtaposed with Bacon is Vermeer, who is also similar to Hopper on a spacial-temporal economic-dynamic, as it were, as it was, as it is: now; as Bacon, Hopper and Vermeer are trenchantly timeless ontologically speaking, ontologically sensing, and so Bacon, Hopper and Vermeer do not obligatory obey the ‘ontic time’ of ‘art history’ let alone ‘art theory’; the cliché about artworks as being timeless is a true cliché because the cliché is the origin of the true. To speak in clichés is to speak in truths and artworks are the clichés of the true that speak truths to the lies and insidious illusions of our ‘being human’.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                  

                                                                                                                                                                                          Willem de Kooning, Head Three, 1973

 

 

 

 

Arse About Face: Alberto Giacometti & Willem de Kooning

 

Alberto Giacometti was an excellent draughtsman but was a dreadfully awful sculptor. Willem de Kooning was an excellent sculptor but was a dreadfully awful painter. So why did arcane art historians and art critics get it all: arse about face? For de Kooning is considered primarily as a painter and Giacometti is considered primarily as a sculptor: what has gone so topsy-turvy here? For it is palatably, incontestably, obvious that Giacometti could not sculpt. For it is palatably, incontestably, obvious that de Kooning could not paint. Willem de Kooning was an incredibly inventive sculptor. Giacometti was an incredibly incisive draughtsman: yet both are still largely known for what they are so incredibly bad at; and this is largely the fault of those arsehole art critics (and curators) who dont know shit and always get things arse about face; or, is it, more arsely, arse about faeces? For Willem de Kooning could not paint: de Kooning could not manipulate paint: and it always shows. For de Kooning was alien to paint. Alberto Giacometti could not sculpt. Giacometti could not manipulate clay: and it always shows. For Giacometti was alien to clay. But, of course, privately, the art critic knows only too well that Alberto Giacometti cannot sculpt. But, of course, privately, the art critic knows only too well that Willem de Kooning cannot paint. You must now all turn face about arse and begin to recognise Alberto Giacometti as a draughtsman, and entirely as a draughtsman. You must now all turn face about arse and begin to recognise Willem de Kooning as a sculptor, and entirely as a sculptor.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                           

                                                                                                                                                                                              Alberto Giacometti, Self-Portrait, pencil on paper, 1935

 

 

 

 

Juxtaposition with Justice

 

There would be jubilate justice in juxtaposing Rachel Whiteread with Francis Bacon because both broach the trace of the ghost as the haunting of the human and the hunting of the human in a ruined condition as being in ruins as being as ruins as the trace of the ruin at the aftermath of the unhousing of the human where there is no one at home at the human; Whiteread and Bacon are not concerned with the human condition; that is, the condition that the human is in but rather the condition that the human is out: the human-out-of-condition. One can only bear witness Whiteread in the flesh and not in reproduction; likewise, one can only bear witness to Francis Bacon in the felsh and not in reproduction: The texturized-traumatized non-textual tangy-textures of Bacon and of Whiteread rightly refuse to be read with the eye in reproductions; even when: reproduced with permission. Rather: You have to go there where they are at and only then can you be invited and initiated into their habitats of the hunted human and the haunted human: Internal Objects at the Gagosian tracks traces of Francis Bacon fermented and furloughed in Rachel Whiteread: Untitled (Crinkle Crackle) 2018, and Untitled (Snow) 2019, are after the Pope has left the Throne where the left curtains become the traces left; the remainder and the reminder of beings past: reproductions of Untitled (Crinkle Crackle) 2018 and Untitled (Snow) 2019 do not do justice to their traumatised textures; thus the textures of the traumas in Doppelgänger, 2020–2021 have to be witnessed well within whitewashed whitenessed.

 

 

 

 

Juxtaposition without Justice

 

There is no aesthetic justice today: Tracey Emin juxtaposed with Edvard Munch, Tracey Emin juxtaposed with Egon Schiele; and our uncritical critics went welcomingly along with this injustice by justifying the juxtapositions yet those that are not trained as art critics will automatically attune to the abysmal-absurdity of placing-pairing Emin with Munch; or abysmal-absurdity of placing-pairing Emin with Schiele yet such a high-risk strategy-tactic of this placing-pairing uncannily-unwittingly exposes the bland banality of Emin who cannot draw to save her life; and she knows she cannot draw; and the art critics know she cannot draw as they all witnessed with her: Ruined (2007), Because You Left (2016) and You Keep It Coming (2019): this is regressive-retardation; this is ‘work-in-regress’; the work of arrested development; but no ‘art critic’ will dare be honest enough to state this ‘brutality of fact’. That Emin had the gall, that Emin had the temerity, to think that she was justified in being ‘juxtaposed’ with Munch, and Schiele, simply staggers belief, and is beyond belief (and exemplifying the ‘dumbing-down’ of draughtsmanship today). Emin can’t draw. Cunt. Emin cun’t draw. Emin can’t draw. Emin can’t draw cunt. When wet Emin was juxtaposed with dry Bacon at the Tate, the uncouth ‘autist’ not only chose two of Bacons worst paintings but couldn’t even be bothered to tidy up all of the delinquent detritus left around her My Bed (1998). And ‘cuntrary’ to the Tate’s claims, Tracey Emin and Francis Bacon are not Perfect bedfellows (Tate, Etc, 30th March, 2015) because Bacon hated fucking cunt; but Bacon loved having his fucking cunt fucked hard being a botty boy, being a bum boy, being a cunt boy, who loved having his pussy fucked in doggy bent over the bed and fucked for hours and hours on end.

If juxtaposing Emin with Bacon isn’t embracing enough, and totally insane, then juxtaposing Emin with Turner becomes beyond embarrassment and beyond total insanity: that is beyond rational discourse: it is actually worth quoting at length an article on Emin/Turner juxtaposition exhibit with the following review-interview that epitomises the intellectual disability’ (aka mental retardation’) of  conceptual art’ (and: art criticism’): “The effect is breathtaking, and oddly cathartic. The clouds over Turner’s Rough Sea (c.1840-5) are uncannily echoed in the tangle of sheets over Emin’s bed, and the browns and yellows of the landscape are mirrored in the stained mattress, offering an extraordinary connection between the two distinct works.” Speaking to Artnet News, Emin emits: “What I love about this installation is the Turner behind it. If you didn’t know, you’d think that I made the bed as a project: Here’s a Turner, now make a bed out of it. It’s uncanny.  The pale blue knickers, that cloud, the sand banks with the sea, everything is just so similar.” (Naomi Rea, ‘Turner Was a Really Raunchy Man’: Tracey Emin on Why Her Infamous ‘My Bed’ Is Really Like a J.M.W. Turner Painting, Artnet News, October 13, 2017). Cretin critics, such as Naomi Rea (and Jonathan Jones) emulate Emin with their dumbed-down delinquent discourse: the moronic-mindlessness of: Here’s a Turner, now make a bed out of it.” is that kak-kind of kindergarten baby-talk blabbered-out by Jonathan Jones when dementedly defending Tracey Emin (and Damien Hirst): “It’s uncanny.

Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst aptly amplify the Democratisation of Art with that stupid slogan: anyone can be an artist which is still disturbingly disseminated and propagated through The Turner Prize and The Institute of Contemporary Art; indeed: The Turner Prize and The Institute of Contemporary Art are political programmes solely for expunging and exorcising the historical-crimes of white-privilege (so they: act-out-of-guilt-in-good-faith if that makes sense); Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst were cynically sold as anyone-can-be-an-artist rough-trade by Jay Jopling and Charles Saatchi aided and abetted by uncritical art-critics of The Guardian and The Independent. Damien Hirst is on the record as stupidly saying: “Anyone can be like Rembrandt. I don’t think a painter like Rembrandt is a genius. It’s about freedom and guts. It’s about looking. It can be learnt. That’s the great thing about art. Anybody can do it if you just believe. With practice you can make great paintings.” (Damien Hirst says anyone can be like Rembrandt. But does art world agree?, Culture, The Guardian, November 14, 2009). So with practice why hasn’t Hirst made great paintings? Yet The Turner Prize and The Institute of Contemporary Art promote the idiocy of anybody can do it (whilst, of course, privately knowing, only too well, that hardly anybody, if anyone at all, can do it today; the truth is that absolutely nobody can really do it’ today like Rembrandt or Leonardo, or Titan, or Caravaggio, or Velázquez, or Vermeer, or Fragonard, or Turner, or Monet, or Van Gogh, or Picasso, or Bacon, could.

So Hirst stated: “It’s about looking.” Yet looking at Hirst’s Bacon pastiche paintings it is clear for Hirst that it is certainly is not about looking because Hirst cannot perceive a lemon so Hirst cannot paint a lemon and Hirst cannot perceive a skull so Hirst cannot paint a skull. Hirst stated: “It’s about freedom and guts.” Yet Hirsts Bacon pastiche paintings are not only gutless but also spineless so completely lacking in freedom. Even Hockney is not nearly as effete as Hirst. Skull with Astray, Lemon and Cigarettes (2006) by Hirst is the work of an uncouth six year old; or rather, the work of retarded development; akin to the retarded development of Emin: aesthetic retardation rules.

 

 

Hirst cunt paint. Emin cunt draw.

 

Hirst can’t paint. The cunt can’t paint. Emin can’t draw. The cunt can’t draw. What the cunt is cunting on when the cunt can’t cunt when that is what the cunts are cunted to cunt but can’t as now to be a cunt is to be a can’t; to can’t is to cunt. Hirst knows he’s a cunt. Emin knows she’s a cunt. Hirst cunts on being a cunt. Emin cunts on being a cunt. Critic cunts know Hirst is a prize cunt to be praised for being a cunt. Critic cunts know Emin is a prize cunt to be praised for being a cunt. Cunt Saatchi knows Hirst is a cunt so counts on Hirst cunting. Cunt Joppling knows Emin is a cunt so counts on Emin cunting. Cunt Saatchi knows Hirst cunt paint. Cunt Joppling knows Emin cunt draw.


 

 

 

 

                                                                                                    

                                                                                                                                                                                             Glenn Brown, Shallow Deaths, 2000

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                           

 

                                                                                                                                                                                      Frank Auerbach, Head of J.Y.M. II, 1984-85

 

 

 

 

 

 

The very last actual-real painting that Bacon did was the spirit-semen sparkle sprinkle in the centre panel of Triptych, August 1972 where we see the spirit of Dyer leaving the body: where the coming-off-of-being is in fact the coming-off-of-spirit for as a supreme painter of spunk Bacon was a supreme painter of spirit where the late Self-Portraits are free from flesh free from time free from aging where Bacon paints spirit akin to the Heads and the Meditations of Jawlensky indeed both Bacon and Jawlensky were the last painters of spirit and we live is a spiritless age which is why we do not recognise Spirit in Bacon and Jawlensky whom were primarily painters of spirit.

For Bacon abpaint is the coming of consciousness; as pure paint is pure consciousness conscious of being paint; just as clay is conscious of being clay and this consciousness is in the doing and this doing is what we nominate as minding since painting is minding not thinking since sculpting is minding and not thinking for paint to be is for paint to mind just as for clay to be is for clay to mind and that is the paint minding itself like the clay minding itself and that means not letting the mind of the artist interfere with the mind of the abpaint or the mind of the abclay and Bacon lets the paint mind itself as having an abmind of its own for the abpaint of Bacon is minding its business.

The paint of Bacon is non-representational paint as it has nothing to represent only being to present as pure-paint presents pure-being for pure-paint is pure-being as the concrete-in-paint as the concrete-in-mind as the concrete consciousness coming to mind as being-paint and nothing but being-paint as paint-being but not all paint has being just as not all being has being has being-there since not all paint is there since not all being is there because it is dreadfully difficult for paint-to-come-into-being just since it is dreadfully difficult for beings-to-come-into-being-there as there is hardly any their-painting-being-there today for there is hardly any their-being-being-there today.

Not all artists are painters for not all painters are painters for not all can bring-paint-to-be and in actual fact there are hardly any painters at all when you put your mind to it for when we come to paint and painting there is hardly any actual painting ever done and by painting we mean paint-coming-to-being as painting but most of what we nominate as painting is nothing of the kind because there is no being of the paint-there for the paint has not actually been painted and so we can safely say that on an ontological level there are, in fact, extremely few painters who paint paintings and in fact most painters today have an actual dread of the paint that is of paint-coming-into-being.

Bacon paints paradoxical portraits where what appears-there is remote-from-itself whilst cementing concrete nearness-thereness as an abjected appearance da-sein disappearance where what is there is the what was there all at once where-there are lost and found time-frames thrown-retrieved as a fort-da economy of throwing-time and retrieving-time where the person portrayed is inserted-in-between-times doing different times all at once and so one never knows what time of day it is or what time of night it is when we catch a glimpse of being glowing for all Bacon can hope to offer us is a glimpse-glow of being-there and that then is the glint and gleam of being painted here.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                               

                                                                                                                                                       Degas’s Paint: The Raw of The Real: A  Study of a Girl’s Head, 1878

 

 

 

 

Lived Paint

 

For Merleau-Ponty, Cézanne’s paint, like Bacon’s paint, throw-us full-throttle into ‘the world of lived experience’ by actually attaining to ‘recapture the feel of perceptual experience itself’ (World of Perception). What Merleau-Ponty wrote about Cézanne was uncannily akin to Bacon in their abilities to ‘portray the world, to change it completely into a spectacle, to make visible how the world touches us’ (Cézanne’s Doubt). In The Film, Merleau-Ponty could easily be describing the sensations seen and heard in a Bacon painting when writing: ‘hot, cold, shrill, or hard colours, of sounds that are clear, sharp, brilliant, rough or mellow, of soft noises and penetrating fragrances’; and of how Cézanne stated that ‘one could see the velvetiness, the hardness, the softness, and even the odour of objects’ again equally applies to describing Bacon’s ethos of recording in paint the lived sensation of being. Bacon’s lived paint between 1944 and 1976 had such a wide and diverse range of textures, temperatures, sounds and bites; but began evaporating into an etiolated paint from 1977 onward; Bacon had actually stopped painting as such by 1980.  Merleau-Ponty writing on Cézanne always suggests Bacon since both Cézanne and Bacon had a will-to-sensation where being-paint becomes being-flesh where the paint is always already the flesh as the Real and not as a representation. Cézanne and Bacon were both obsessed with recording the fleshy fleshed-out senstaioning of the Real (which must not to be confused with the ‘symbolic real’ or the ‘imaginary real’ of Lacanian psychoanalysis).

Bacon aspired to paint the Real of Degas as the raw of the Real preferring the immediacy and intensity of the pastels to the oils; but Bacon admired the oil sketches of artists from Degas to Constable, Turner to Seurat, with their freshness of being paint making it perfectly clear what the Real really is despite denials of Lacanians who not only cannot attain complete-jouissance, but cannot come to know the Real for itself, as its self, as Bacon attains to as Degas attains to as Seurat attains to as Constable attains to as Turner attains to as well as Van Gogh as well as Corinth attains to as well as Soutine attains to where the Real of that paint presentsnot representsthe real of the Real and that Real of the Paint is the attuning and attaining to a complete-fulfilled jouissance of the Real which is in fact far more real as the Real than those representations nominated as human beings which are unreal for what could be more un-real than the human-being? The Real is alien to the human because real-being is alien-being being alien to the human that is not real-being; not the being the Real that is the alien Real unknown to the human.

Bacon’s fortified frothed fractured fragmented heinous hideous heeded heads neither begin nor end but erupt eternally ejaculating froth foams from the thyroid control centre spilling out towards them always already mutating ‘man’ meat metamorphoses arriving at an angoisse archaic alteric alien again. Also Artaud arts anarchic alterity altering aluminium altitude amassing atta Apollyon aorta aperture opening oroide oozed orphic osis oils oust flow flood  flank forward forte frottage frowzy fructify fruition fractious fractured fracas fragmentations bled by bayonet Blanchot: “... fragmentation is the pulling to pieces (the tearing) of that which never had pre-existed (really or ideally) as a whole, nor can it ever be reassembled in any future presence whatsoever... Detached from everything, including detachment.” (Maurice Blanchot, L’écriture du désastre. Paris Gallimard, 1980). 

The tearing of the paint to pieces in Bacon is the tarrying with the negative in Hegel and the throwing of the paint in one piece by Bacon is both the tarring with death and the carrying of death-within-the-paint as the gustatory geist smell and sight and sound of thrown-death being-there as a pure-presentation (not as a representation) of death-in-itself-as-itself-for-itself as quite literally the face of death but without the banal literalness of death since death cannot be illustrated by illustration only painted by paint-in-itself-for-itself-as-itself-0as-death-being-there (since only Rembrandt, Velázquez, Van Gogh, Picasso, Soutine and Bacon can paint the ontology of the being of death) where the raw (the real and the true) language of the paint endures death within it as a living force as the positivity of negativity where that wet negative moment in Hegel becomes a positive force and form of the dead.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                 

                                                                                                                                                                Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait of John Hewitt, 1966            

    

 

 

 

Bacon not only tears the paint apart but tears people apart as well: “I’ve always thought of friendship as where two people really tear one another apart and perhaps in that way learn something from one another. I’ve always hope to find another painter I could really talk towho really tore my things to bits and whose judgement I could actually believe in...”  (Francis Bacon, Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, Thames & Hudson, 1987).  Hear Heraclitus here:  “Men do not understand how a thing which is torn in different directions comes into accord with itselfharmony in contrarity, as in the case of the bow or the lyre.” To tear apart is always to bring together.

And Adorno adroitly adds: “Artworks are a priori negative by the law of their objectivation: They kill what they objectify by tearing it away from the immediacy of its life. Their own life preys on death. This defines the qualitative threshold to modern art. Only by the strength of its deadliness do art works participate in reconciliation.  But in this they at the same time remain obedient to myth. This is what is Egyptian in each. By wanting to give permanence to the transitoryto lifeby wanting to save it from death, the works kills it.”  (Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, The Athlone Press, 1997).  

But by brutally tearing the torso to tatters pulling-it-to-pieces-to-pulp-to-pap through the thrown paint-pus Bacon freely fractures filtered fragments throwing through there the terete fucked-face hollowing husk hydraulic hyena howling hybrid hydra hysteria hypostasis where wonderful wounding as a out of our oozed being becoming such suffuse severed surplus saturated seeping smelly smaze soggy soft sludge slurp stuff soaking spunk sown sensation: shining shimmering showering shielding showing scintillating skin shine shot sein: Bacon, Nolde, Soutine, and Jawlensky bleed-colour to bleed-being to bleed spirit sow-as-to bleed-the-meat to reveal-the-spirit which is the being of the meat that gives meat its shine and this shine is the sign of the divine-dasein of flesh-spirit for flesh is the spirit of the meat that is the material expression of spirit as flesh for soul-flesh is a soul-flash of being spirit-there.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                              

                                                                                                                                              Facial-Frisson-Semen-Sensation: Jettisoned-Jouissance of Dread-Dasein

 

 

 

 

Paint is always the there just as being is always the there as where there is paint there is being for where there is being there is always there and being and paint need the there clear in order to come-into-being and Bacon gives us ground for paint-to-be for being-to-be and so Bacon keeps the ground all dull and desolate in order to-clear-the-ground for paint-to-be for being-to-be thus this is the genius of Bacon in giving-the-ground a frissonless-flatness that then thus gives the paint the clearing clear as a plateau to breath freely upon a clear-ground being-free and this different from the claustrophobic-clutter frequently found in kak Kossoff, Auerback, Freud who gravel-the-ground.  

The Paint of Bacon, akin to the Paint of Rembrandt, and akin to the Paint of Van Gogh, cannot be reproduced in colour reproductions which renders books on Bacon and Rembrandt and Van Gogh null and void since they always come across as flat and dull no matter how well reproduced the reproductions are they always lack that raw materiality of the Paint lacking the reality of the Paint which is why one can only ever Encounter the Paint of Rembrandt and the Paint of Van Gogh and the Paint of Bacon in-the-paint that is in-the-flesh for the flesh-is-the-paint-the-paint-is-the-flesh which is why Rembrandt and Van Gogh and Bacon present paint-flesh and never a represented flesh. Even the solemn subdued sedate paint in Self-Portrait, 1889, of van Gogh has a living-quality (living-intensity) that this placid paint in Lucian Freud and Jenny Saville could never attain to due largely to their lack of paint dasein.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                                                           Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait, 1889

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                               

 

 

                        

 

                                                                                                                                                                             Francis Bacon, Study for Head of George Dyer, 1967

 

 

 

 

Francis Bacon: The Culinary Paint of a Master Chef

 

The profound problem with the Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (2016) is the poor (impoverished) quality of the colour reproductions (and largely a lack of close-up detail of the paint so essential to the artists painting period between 1949 and 1969). Bacon, like Auerbach, has never faired well in colour reproductions unlike illustrative artists such as Hockney, Saville, or Warhol who actually look far better in colour reproductions than in the flesh. When one scans the etiolated colour plates of the Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné one is left feeling extremely hungry and starved of the paint for the paint which one cannot taste, one cannot smell, one cannot swallow.

The fleshness of the plashy paint comes forth figurism from the thrown fleshism freshness of the paint thrown forth afresh through the thrownness of the paint which is the frisson freshness of the pulsating paint for flesh is fresh for flesh is what is always fresh so the paint must be thrown fresh where the throwing-forth is a way of freshness yet not anyone can throw freshly just as not anyone can paint freshly as if the paint were always eternally fresh infinitely fresh just as time is always a fresh time which is why time can never be linear which is why paint can never be linear for paint is the nowness of time always already being-now being thrown now being painted now for paint to be flesh for paint to be fresh paint has to be in-the-throw of the nows in an instant infinitely forever thrown forth into infinity infinitely-thrown eternally-fresh molten-lava leaking-life burning bright-being-there thrown-there forever-fresh flesh-paint.

Through Baconian and Bakhtinian parole brutethe lived language of leaked paint and wordBacon and Blanchot displace paint and dissolve language by lifting it, leaking it, flaying it, filleting it, spilling it, spunking it, splitting it, severing it, sensationing it, frothing it, fragmenting it, frissoning it free from the noise of narrative to the nailed nervous system where force negates form, where form becomes froth foaming forth forever wet without illustration without words negating narrative. Blanchot terms the fragmentary as: “Languages rupture with itself.”  

Whilst, for Bacon, Paints rupture with itself is initiated in painting portraits where wet paint abjects itself out of itself so transforming and transcending itself from paint-for-itself to paint in-itself thrown out of itself like lava leaking burning being bright as an abjected alien oozed object wetted which fits-over and floods-out the sedated-subject wet-where the beautiful human subject becomes the ugly alien object. Bacon paints portraits as freeze-framed frothed-formed flawed-facets in a stasis-state whilst welded in movement of moving-on at a stand-still. 

In Bacons primordial portraits of our wondrous wounds, the abject-sublime is the angelic angoisse antagonistic dialectic duelled between the drying-dying human subject and the beautifully borning alien object: Bacons paint parole brute is the thrown-thick leaked-lava soaking-scorching the sinking-subject hot-wet with smouldering sticky slime stuff: ejaculating, erupting, engulfing out over our empty-ego throttling the thrown foreign filtered flayed fuck face forever fresh froth spilling specific spatial sliver silver slithered speckled sperm spasm specimen spiritualizes spearing sensation ornately oozed obliquely obtusely outrageously outmoded outer orbit outblazingly out of joint jettisoning jouissance. 

You can easily smell and see sticky slime stuff on the chin in Study for Head of George Dyer (1967); but this plashy paint can hardly be easily smelt or seen in the Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (2016). Then there is the paradoxical paint of a plashy-driedness as we witness and wetness and dryness in Figure in a Room (1962) when-where Bacon was at the height of painting with paint where wet-dry and dry-wet textures teething through textures nailing the nerves. For Bacon the paint as plashy is the plush; a painterly ripeness, a painterly richness as a painterly voluptuousness; the painterly luxury of a haute cuisine painter; for Bacon was the Gourmet of Painting in the 1960s; Bacon was a gourmet of paint and pain as well as a gourmet of food and wine; for Bacon was a Master Chef of Manipulating Paint; sedately serving the meat off the bone whilst filleting the fish with finesse and served rare.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                

                                                                                                                                                                            Francis Bacon Figure in a Room,1962 (detail)

 

 

 

 

Abstract Expressionism

 

Abstraction and Expressionism were two terms Bacon detested and despised yet were clearly apparent and evident within painting practices of Bacon. And Bacon repeatedly stated that he had nothing to express; yet the paint is a direct expression of the execution of the the image through expressive paint that expresses a nervous mood or an anxious move. And there are abstract passages of paint operating outside of illustration that illustrate Bacon was an abstract painter and not only an abstract painter but an abstract expressionist painter albeit one not so sloppy or messy as de Kooning. The Abstract Expressionism of Bacon is in fact Abstract Figureism because Bacon never loses the image of the figure or the face even in his late organic shape-shifting landscapes and spacescapes; the presence or the after-presence or the trace-shadow of the figure is always present when absent in Bacon for the abimage as figure is always the dasein of the image. The dasein is so strong in Bacon that when we think that there is nothing-there or hardly anything-there we still feel an uncanny presences of that absence being-there and this has to do with the ‘lived’ quality of the paint that is much more lived and alive than other painters.

The dasein in Freud and Auerbach is almost, if not always, absence; whilst the dasein in van Gogh and Rembrandt is always there, poignantly and intensely, there as paint-dasein and so different artists reveal their levels of dasein or their lacks of dasein through the being of the their brush and the being of their oil-paint for paint is ontological; not at all surprisingly then that ‘plastic’ acrylic paint has no dasein: acrylic paint does not live like oil paint.

Turner was the greatest Abstract Expressionist whose images have a far more poignantly potent presencing than all the later Abstract Expressionists because Turner was able to make much more specific marks of the Real as an identifiable Dasein whilst at the same time being totally abstract. Only the Indian Ink Drawings of Henri Michaux come close to this nailing of the Real in near Abstraction of whom Francis Bacon did not see as being at all Abstract. One can see why Turner always comes way after Pollock, Rothko, Natkin, Hofmann, Reinhardt, Newman; and Bacon always already after already coming after and never ever before have we had an artist coming after whom came before them after all. This makes a mockery of the myth of so-called ‘art history’ and the ‘history of art’. Artworks are the radical realisation that time does not exist. Art is made out of time. Art is not in time. Which is why Art is always late. Art is before its Time and arrives after its Time. Art is not an abstraction. Art does not: abstract. Turner forever comes after the Contemporary. Turner refuses art history.

Being does not abstract. Being is not an abstraction which is why their can be no ontology of an abstract art: abstract painting is the negation of ontology altogether because there is nothing noticeable being there in abstract painting per se has no dasein which is why Bacon rightly referred to abstract painting as decoration and as wallpaper. David Sylvester had no instinctive understating of the ontology of paint so simply dismissed all those Bacon decoration declarations on abstraction. Furthermore, Sylvester slavishly followed the aesthetics fashions of his day, whilst Bacon bravely refused to follow the futile fashion for abstraction. Yet there is nothing Abstract or Expressionist in Bacon’s ab-imagery which is always primarily ab-paint-in-itself-for-itself which is thus not at all abstracted and which thus is not expressed: it simply is as an abimage.

Rothko had dasein because Rothko is not an ‘abstract painter’ per-se, as-such; as Rothko paints emanations, vibrations, mediations, meditations, moodations and sensations of dasein; or what was once nominated as spirit: Rothko presents the materiality of spirit of spirit made flesh. Bacon presents the materiality of flesh made spirit: In the late Bacon Self Portraits we bear witness to the bare witness of flesh made spirit which, in turn, miraculously mirror the meandering moods mediated in the Mediations of  Jawlensky; and it still seems strange that, even now, no one seems able to see how strikingly similar late Bacon Self Portraits and late Jawlesnky Meditations are in their timeless tranquillity. It is high-time that the late Bacon Self Portraits and the late Jawlesnky Meditations should be shown together; having said that: Rothko and Jawlensky scould also be exhibited together.

 

 

 

Reaction to Abstraction

 

The common and commonsense reaction to abstraction can be heard with these two statements: ‘There’s nothing there’ or ‘My kid could do that.’ Both statements: ‘There’s nothing there’ and ‘My kid could do that.’ are true and untrue. Indeed; there ‘is’ nothing ‘there’ and nothing is indeed is what is there and this opens us up to asking ourselves what is it about the nothing that is there that causes us such anxiety and dread/ Is it our own death which is this nothing that is there? Bacon said he did not fear death because there was nothing there to fear and this was the fear of death in Bacon fearing that nothing death that is abstract painting: the nothing there of abstract death.

Our anxiety and dread of abstraction merely mirrors our dread and anxiety of the mirrorless nothing-there that is death-not-there: Abstract Expressionism presents purely and simply our not being-there we are literally out of the picture so to speak so to paint Abstract Expressionism presents an absence of our dasein and we dread our dasein being absent not being there and this not human being there is the radical Anti-Natalim of Abstract-Expressionism which is a cosmological ontology and not a human ontology for there is refreshingly and radically nothing human about Abstract Expressionism and this is its virtue and violence: virtue of the human being absent of the human and violent by its negation of the human and abstract art signified my non-existence as a threat to the ego-centeredness as required of self-portraiture as an assertion of the I am, that I exist as a face-there. Yet I do not fear abstract painting because there is noting there to fear. I have anxiety about abstract painting because I have an anxiety about abstraction and death is an abstraction abstracted from nothing which is not death. Those that do identify with abstract painting identify with an abstraction as an abstraction: not necessarily face-to-face with nothing but no-face-to-no-face as abstractions: as-those-not-there.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                   

                                                                                                                                                                         Study of Portrait of P. L. from photographs (1963)

 

 

 

 

Prime Bacon

 

Bacon was at his bravura best in: Landscape with Car (1946-47), Head II (1949), Head VI (1949), Study after Velázquez (1950), Study for a Figure (1950), Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953), Study for a Portrait (1953), Three Studies of the Human Head (1953), Two Figures (1953), Pope (1953), Portrait of David Sylvester Walking (1953), Portrait of a Man (1953), Study of a Dog (1954), Two Americans (1954), Man in Blue I (1954), Man in Blue V (1954), Man in Blue IV (1954), Man in Blue V I (1954), Man in Blue VII (1954), Portrait of R. J. Sainsbury (1955), Figures in a Landscape (1956-57), Study for Portrait of Van Gogh IV (1957), Head of Boy (1960), Study of a Child (1960), Head - Man in Blue (1961), Paralytic Child Walking on all Fours from Muybridge (1961), Crouching Nude (1961), Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962), Head - The Surgeon (1962), Study from Innocent X (1962), Portrait - Peter Lacy (1962), Study for a Portrait of P.L. (1962), Portrait of Henrietta Morase (1963), Study of Portrait of P. L. from photographs (1963), Study for Portrait with Two Owls (1963), Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer (1963), Turning Figure (1963), Study for Portrait on Folding Bed (1963), Study for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1964), Double Portrait of Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach (1964), Three Figures in a Room (1964), Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1965), Crucifixion (1965), Portrait of Henrietta Morase on a Blue Couch (1965), Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne (1966), Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle (1966), Study for a Portrait (1966), Portrait of George Dyer Staring at a Blind-Cord (1966), Study for Portrait of John Hewitt (1966), Three Studies of Muriel Belcher (1966), Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966), Two Figures on a Couch (1967), Study for Head of Lucian Freud (1967), Left Panel of Three Studies for a Self-Portrait (1967), Portrait of Lucian Freud (1968), Triptych - Studies from the Human Body (1970), Self-Portrait (1970), Three Studies of the Male Back (1970), Triptych (1970), Study for Portrait (1971), Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud Sideways (1971), Lying Figure in a Mirror (1971), Study for Self Portrait with Wrist Watch (1973), Triptych May-June (1973), Triptych March 1974 (1974), Three Studies for Self-Portrait (1974), Two Studies for Portrait (1976), Study for Portrait (1976), Three Studies for a Self-Portrait (1976).

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) is often cited as the official Ordination and Maturation of Bacon as an artist and image maker but Bacon the particular painter begins with Head VI (1949) where we bare witness and wetness to the ontology of Bacon’s paint that only Bacon could orchestrate. Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) is not painted per se as such but instead imaged as that witch Bacon will one day come to paint. Study of Portrait of P. L. from photographs (1963), arguably the prototherion painting of the entire Francis Bacon corpus, was tragically destroyed by the artist on 12 June 1975. Perversely, maybe even masochistically, Bacon tended to destroy his better paintings (in his attempt to take them further) whilst allowing weaker works to survive such as the later etiolated works of the 1980s.  As Bacon confessed: “I think I tend to destroy the better paintings, or those that have been better to a certain extent. I try and take them further, and they lose all their qualities, and they lose everything. I think I would say that I destroy all the better paintings.”

 

 

Rancid Bacon

 

Bacon last painted in 1976 and from then onward regretfully returned to the regressive retardation of inane illustration. Bacon should have definitely destroyed: Portrait of Lucian Freud (1951), Study for a Portrait with Red & Blue Stripes (1952), Man on a Chaise-Longue (1953), Study for Figure I (1953), Head II (1958), Seated Man, Orange Ground (1958), Seated Figure on a Couch (1959), Head of a Woman (1960), Seated Woman (1961), Study for Female Figure (1971), Self-Portrait (1972), Figures in Movement (1973), Self-Portrait, (1975), Study for Portrait (1976), Three Studies for a Portrait of Gianni Agnelli (1977), Two Studies for Self-Portrait (1977), Three Studies for a Portrait (1977), Triptych (1977), Landscape (1978), Study for a Portrait - John Edwards (1978), Study for Self-Portrait (1978), Study for a Portrait (1978), Two Studies for Portrait of Clive Barker (1978), Two Studies for Portrait of Richard Chopping (1978), Figure in Movement (1978), Side of Beef (1978), Seated Figure (1979), Study for Self-Portrait (1979), Oedipus (1979), Sphinx - Portrait of Muriel Belcher (1979), Study of Reinhard Hassert & Study of Eddy Batache (1979), Study for Portrait with Bird in Flight (1980), Carcass of Meat & Bird of Prey (1980), Study for Self-Portrait (1981), Study for Portrait (1981), Study for Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne (1982), Kneeling Figure - Back View (1982), Figure with Cricket Pad (1982), Study from the Human Body - Figure in Movement (1982), A Piece of Wasteland (1982), Study for the Eumenides (1982), Study for Self-Portrait (1982), Study from the Human Body (1983), Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne (1983), Street Scene with Car in Distance (1984), Blood on Pavement (1984), Study from the Male Body (1986), Study for Portrait of John Edwards (1986), Study from the Human Body (1986), Study for Portrait of Gilbert de Botton (1986), Blood on the Floor - Painting (1986), Triptych (1986-1987), Study for Portrait (1987), Figure Opening Door (1987), Study from the Human Body (1987), Triptych (1987), Study from the Human Body and Portrait (1988), Study of a Man and Woman Walking (1988-1989), Study for Portrait of John Edwards (1989), Painting (1990), Study for Portrait of Jose Capélo (1990), Two Studies for a Portrait (1990), Male Nude Before Mirror (1990), Self-Portrait (1990), Figure in Open Doorway (1990-91), Study for the Human Body (1991), Triptych (1991), Study for a Portrait (1991), Study of a Bull (1991). 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                          Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, 1964

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                                             Honoré Fragonard, La Gimblette, 1776

 

 

 

 

Abstract Expressionism: Work in Regress

 

Francis Bacon was unfashionably brave to publicly dismiss Abstract Expressionism as dreary decoration and even today such an aesthetic attitude is rather rare since Abstract Expressionism is still fashionable kept in fashion largely, if not exclusively, due to the continuing command of high auction prices with works by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns, Sam Francis, Franz Kline, Morris Louis, Agnes Martin, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Frank Stella and Willem de Kooning going for millions of dollars. So called art criticism and art writing first and foremost serves the art market as art sales talk with art critics and art experts writing art talk in contemporary art auction catalogues which hard sell the artists auctioned. We are certainly not going to get art critics and art theorists to start seriously critiquing Abstract Expressionist in auction sales catalogues; even some of the worst works by Francis Bacon are given sycophantic eulogising in the catalogue notes. Well-established big names means big money’ means the absolute negation of critique altogether and this filters through from the art establishment’ to the ‘art school’ which reproduce and disseminate these ‘big names’ of our ‘contemporary artists’ as the ‘official’ (legitimated) names of the ‘contemporary canon’ (and so ‘sanctioned by the ‘art critic’ as being in’ (vogue). One cannot think of any major art house publications disseminating volumes dedicated to deconstructing Abstract Expressionism because it is not the fashionable thing to do today and their is a vested interest in keeping the Abstract Expressionism ‘market place’ going as well as countless art galleries and art museums worldwide that house ‘important collections’ of Abstract Expressionist painting which in turn gives it a sort of necro-nostalgia.

Psychologically, and ontologically, speaking, Abstract Expressionism is an appalling case of arrested development as work in regress as a regressive retardation at work and certainly not as sophisticated’ and ‘mature’ and adult as the artworks of chimps and children. Yet one cannot believe that ‘sophisticated’ people such as Kline, such as de Kooning, such as Newman, such as Pollock, such as Stella, could paint such spastic paintings. One wishes that our adults were more critical of Abstract Expressionism; even a retarded child, of course, would be much more critical of Towmbly and Pollock, of de Kooning and Kline, of Newman and Stella, than a grown adult; what a perverse paradox; what a troublesome truth. For theretarded child can say what it truly thinks about art whilst thesophisticated art critic cannot say what it truly thinks about art because it has to follow certain rules of the game; that is, the rules of the art game. Those that criticise Abstract Expressionism tend to be branded ignorant or ‘uninformed’ or ‘uncultured or uneducated’ and thus lacking nuance and ‘intelligence’ and ‘sophistication.

        

 

 

The Economy of the Spurt: Bacon versus Pollock

 

How do Bacon and Pollock score when it comes to composing the dribbling and the spurting of those shards of semen: those spurts so associated with Bacon and Pollock? So why is it that one spurt composed by Bacon has more intensity (power) that a hundred spurts by Pollock? We know that the over use of percussion in any score cancels out the intensity; the sparse use of timpani for example give much more intensity than the over orchestrated use of timps; but even the congested scores of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler use timpani and percussion sparingly and so have incredible impact; but Pollock, like de Kooning, over saturated and over stuffs and over layers the textures which become clogged and claustrophobic being over orchestrated (just as Lucian Freud always over orchestrated resulting in clogged up and congested claustrophobic paint although Auerbach has passages of dense orchestration but the paint is never heavy (congested) like it is in Freud (and Kossoff). Pollock’s infinity of spurts cancel each other out whilst Bacon’s finity of the single spurt survives since one spurt on one canvas from Bacon outlives and outshine one hundred spurts on a canvas by Pollock. Both de Kooning and Pollock are simply slap-dash and lack drip-discipline and are aesthetically and arsethetically diarrheaotic unable t0 produce solid stools.

As an ardent atheist, Francis Bacon was, paradoxically, even perversely, peculiarly particular about how to spend God’s Gifts of Geist (that is: God’s Semen Shards of Spent Spirit) without ever over-spending the semen strikes, that is, over-spilling the semen sent, as in the case of Jackson Pollock; being homosexual, Bacon endured the economy of semen by engaging with all the semen sparingly in all of its gushing geist; whilst heterosexual Pollock did not understand the exacting economy of semening and so over-spent (over-shot) all the stuff without being sensitive to the chance shot shape of each secreted semen spurt; Michael Peppiatt revealingly remembered: “I recall Bacon becoming transfixed, for instance, by a puddle of milk on a café table; he lifted his finger, as if to draw in it, then rather reluctantly abstained. (Peppiatt, Bacons Eyes; Francis Bacon in the 1950s, Yale University Press: 2006). 

The single shot of white paint flung by Bacon in one painting has more intensity and poignancy than all of the flings flung by Pollock in one painting. Less is (in this case) More (intense). To accompany and to compliment the feather-light single shot of white paint in Portrait of Lucian Freud (1968), Bacon adds additional dry dark-disc anchor timpani-strokes which weigh the image down as this flight of wet white paint lifts-off of the canvas; and we also witness these dry dark-disc anchor timpani-strokes in Bacons musical masterpiece, Portrait of P.L. from Photographs (1963); it is still deeply depressing that Bacon destroyed what was, arguably, his very greatest painting.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                      

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Portrait of Lucian Freud (1968)

 

 

 

 

Cecily Brown contra Willem de Kooning

 

Willem de Kooning started off as a house painter and ended up a house painter and never became a painter per se, as such; even when mimicking at playing a figurative painter, de Kooning remained a house painter. How de Kooning ever became recognised, or, rather, misrecognised as a painter is beyond belief and beggars belief. But largely, if not solely, because of the weight of Greenberg and the weight of Sylvester, de Kooning became canonized and lionized as a painter; as an important painter, as a great painter, despite the empirical-aesthetical brutality of fact that de Kooning could not paint. Yet Sylvester insanely stated that he rated de Kooning above Bacon:

I think, too, my placing of Bacon hasn’t much changed. I would place him alongside Giacometti, Dubuffet and Beuys. But there are several American artists whom I would place above Bacon  Newman, Pollock, de Kooning, Johns and Twombly. They were, too me, greater painters than Bacon.” (David Sylvester, The art of the interview, Tate, Issue 26, 2001).

Bacon was correct to state that Sylvester had no aesthetic sense; Sylvester had no aesthetic judgement. Bacon was infinitely superior to Newman, Pollock, de Kooning, Johns and Twombly. Cecily Brown is arguably a superior painter to de Kooning but she has not been given the cultural kudos, cultural certificates, aesthetic authorisations, by those that designate and authorise and sanction, who is in the top league; but as the late Mark Cousins taking his cue from Michel Foucault stated: Who authorises the authorisers? Who puts who in authority to authorise the authority to authorisean artist; who has the authority to authorise who is an authorised artist?

 

 

 

Francis Bacon contra Cy Twombly

 

The ontic-qulity of the primal mark reveals (marks) developmental dasein and even the possibility (or the impossibility) of having a dasein. By juxtaposing the marks-made by Cy Twombly with the marks-made by Francis Bacon, we can immediately (instinctively and institutively (even intellectually) grasp who had dasein and/or how progressive or regressive that dasein is. Abstract Expressions unwittingly and uncannily reveals (unconseals) the ontic-ontological state of the artist through the mind of the hand that makes the primal mark and its ability to be or not to be (there). Abstract Expressions is the relation of the possibility and impossibility of our having dasein.

When we juxtapose Cy Twombly’s “In Beauty it is finished” (1983–2002) with Francis Bacon’s ‘T.S Eliot’s ‘Sweeney Agonistes’ (1967) then we immediately identify which one has dasein and which one does not have dasein; there is no dasein in Cy Twombly as there is nothing there; whereas there is dasein in Francis Bacon as there is something there; — and this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Cy Twombly being abstract’ and Francis Bacon being figurative either. Here are solely concerned with the primordial-quality of the ontological-mark as a mark-in-itself-for-it-self-as-it-self-as-it-is-as-it-was-as-it-were-as-living-on-its-own-for-its-own-sake.

Rosalind Krauss was correct about Cy Twombly being regressive and retarded: the ontic-quality of the mark-making made by Cy Twombly are diarrheic devoid of dasein; for the marks made by Cy Twombly are of an arrested development as being underdeveloped: handicapped (incapacitated) and it dumfounds one why adults are attracted to such diarrhoeic daubs done by Cy Twombly revealing a lack of aesthetic judgement. When we juxtapose the suave and sophisticated diaphanous-drawings made by Henri Michaux with the diarrhoea-drawings made by Cy Twombly then we see how backwardly impeded the feeble-minded marks made by Cy Twombly really are.

 


 

                                                                  

                                              Ontoregression: Cy Twombly, “In Beauty it is finished” (1983–2002)                                              Ontoprogression: Francis Bacon’s ‘T.S Eliot’s ‘Sweeney Agonistes’ (1967)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Non-Illustrational Figuration of Albert Marquet & Henri Michaux

 

Albert Marquet was unofficially, but aesthetically, the peoplescape painter predecessor of  Henri Michaux in that we witness an initiation and an instalment of non-illustration figuration as the moist movement of the masses as peoplescapes. Maquet and Michaux were able with one singular brushstroke able to paint a figure in motion by enabling an economy as an essence of the figure like no other artists were able to do. Marquet, even to this day, still remains underrated and overlooked; remember that the sheer brave radicality of exacting the economy of the single brushstroke a short hand of sensation to create a complete singular form is, still, even today, extremely rare amongst painters whmo largely laboriously fill-in-the-form with far too many brushstrokes to make a complete singular form. Michaux takes Marquet even further into abstract figuration which is not really abstract as such.

Henri Michaux is an apt example of an artist working within the real of  Abstract Figurism and thus Henri Michaux is much more memorable than Jackson Pollock because the identifiable moving images are imprinted on us as identifiable with the identity of the Real and so not abstract; where as Pollock as cosmic abstract remains at the level of the nothing not there not being there with which the art critic necessarily identifies with as a nothing there. But what of this nothing that is not there? For they say that there is rhythm in Pollock. The rhythm in tantrum Pollock is extremely child-like, wayward and undisciplined; the rhythm sounds slapdash sloppy, sluggish, slack, slick; Pollock is a bad composer of paint; over orchestrating the paint so clogging-up the orchestral textures; whereas Bacon composes his scores with exquisite economy of sound so the image is never congested or claustrophobic.

 

 

Abstract Figurism

 

Abstract Figureism is initiated in Brancusi, Marquet, Modigliani, Picasso, Jawlensky, Michaux and Bacon who abstract the figure and abstract the face without becoming completely abstract for abstracting is not the same as abstraction; abstracting is essenceing and essentialising and economising as a further refining of daseining as a stripping down of sein so to speak to its pre-ego essential eggism as it were, as it was, as it is, as a primordial presence. Abstract Figureism is dreadfully difficult to achieve and not so as easy and not so as lazy as the vast majority of Abstract Expressionist artworks are and which remain at the level of dreary decoration without dasein which is appealing in its abstracted abjectness of navigating the nothing. But nothing comes from nothing and it is this very nothing that is refreshing and revealing as a reflection upon nothing that matters most of all as the materiality of mind mindfully manifesting the nothing-there. Abstract Expressionism always works so well in bank lobbies because it mirrors the mirrorlessness of the facelessness of corporate capitalism: there-where-there is nothing-there happening-there. Ruben Pang is arguably one of the finest painters of Abstract Figureism today far finer than the pastiche plagiarism of Glenn Brown who abillustrated paint through a vigorous virtuosity. Pang nominates himself as an abstract painter (whatever that means) yet never falls fully into inane and abysmal abstraction as such.

Like Turner and Bacon, Pang is able to hold on to an identifiable familiar reality whilst also being abstractly alien which is the economy of the uncanny in Freud. Pang does not fall into inane illustration which we witness with Jenny Saville who still slavishly draws in the eyes and draws in the nose and draws in the mouth despite saying: “I like the down and dirty side of things. I don’t like things to be too polished. We’ve got fashion magazines for that.” Yet Saville’s dirt is disingenuous because Saville’s dirt is clean and Saville’s computer-generated photoshop-paint is polished and pristine. Saville states: I paint flesh because I’m human. If you work in oil, as I do, it comes naturally. Flesh is just the most beautiful thing to paint. But safe Saville illustrates flesh; Saville does not paint flesh. The problem with sanitized Saville is that she is human, all too human, without being; because one cannot be a human being’ since there is no such being for a ‘to be human after all before all above all below all aside all abide all about all within all without all withwhere all.

So where is the ‘oil’ of the ‘paint’? Where is the work in oil? Yet Savilles dry (blood-less) paint is fleshless because it is paintless and this is simply because Saville has no dasein and thus the paint is daseinless and fleshless. The clinical, sterile and anodyne paintingless-paintings of Saville produce no shudder in the spectator because the paint is cleansed-purified of being stripped of being where being has become extinct where the paint has no life and this is because the painter has no dasein. The way the painter manipulates the being of the paint there will always reveal the levels and the intensities of the there dasein. Saville is too scared and timorous to reinvent realism to reinvent the features of the face unlike the panglossian Pang who has bravely painted portraits without literally filling in all of the features. Rubato Ruben Pang is arguably the greatest living non-illustrational portraiturist working today.

The greatest abstract landscapist was arguably Turner who has never been unsurpassed because Turner was able to be absolute-abstract whilst paradoxically recording the actual-specific image-fact of natural dasein; we see this in the late oil sketches and late watercolours which are in fact contemporary art’, much more advanced and ahead of Pollock and Rothko whose works appear as always coming well before Turner; thus here Turner deconstructs the construction of linear (historical’) time thus making an absurdity of art history’ simply because Turner clearly came way after Pollock and Rothko whom obviously pre-date Turner. Degas pastels clearly come after Auerbachs charcoals. Art is the ontological evidence that time does not exist for artworks for artworks work outside of time for artworks know of no time knowing there is no time; art is the radical realisation that time does not exist. There can be no art history. Art is always being without history. Art is the always instead of history. Art has no history. Art has no time. Art has no time for history. When we are with art we are without time, we are without history.

 

 

The ironic impossibility of ‘art history’ 

 

Jenny Saville is not a ‘contemporary’ of Ruben Pang because Jenny Saville is not ‘now’ but (back) ‘then’ just as Anthony Gormely is not ‘now’ but (back) ‘then’ because Henry Moore is much more modern than Anthony Gormley: this can be directly demonstrated at Tate Modern where we witness 'Untitled' (for Francis), 1985, by Gormely juxtaposed with Composition, 1932, by Henry Moore: Hence here you will see straight away that Henry Moore is still working ‘now’, whereas Gormley is long deceased and no longer working ‘now’ for Untitled' (for Francis), 1985, is uncannily (or unwittingly) akin to the National Socialist Nude Statues of the Third Reich (although arguably Arno Breker had much more ‘style’, ‘bravura’ and ‘panache’ than Anthony Gormley whose academically anodyne furtive fugitive figures are aptly gormless). ‘Timeless Art’ throws ‘Art History’ out of Time for all time for all of no time.

So Henry Moore comes well after Anthony Gormley (and not before as commonsense ‘art history’ mistakenly assumes). Likewise, Jean-Honoré Fragonard is an exact ‘contemporary’ of Francis Bacon, and working ‘now’, whilst Jenny Saville is long deceased working way back then unable to paint with the daring modernity of Fragonard (that is outside of illustration). So Fragonard comes well after Saville, just as say Cézanne comes well after Cubism (and not before as commonsense ‘art history’ mistakenly assumes). Francis Bacon was absolutely correct in stating that Cubism is nothing more than a kind of decoration on Cézanne.”   

So why is Moore so much more modern than Gormley? That is the question. So why is Fragonard so much more modern that Saville? That is the question. Why are Velázquez, Rembrandt, Fragonard, Titian, Sargent, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Boccioni, Brâncuși, Soutine, Picasso, Jawlensky, Moore, and Bacon still ‘contemporary’ as more advanced than our artists today (Pang excluded)? Is it that painters and sculptors today are in a stagnant sterile state of anti-aesthetic regression? Again: Why is Unique Forms of Continuity in Space,1913, by Umberto Boccioni so blatantly (and brazenly) much more modern (more ‘contemporary’) than the later Walking Man, 1989, by Elisabeth Frink?

Why are conductors Arturo Toscanini, Otto Klemperer, Hans Rosbaud or Bruno Maderna far more ‘contemporary’ (modern sounding) than Frans Brüggen, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Christopher Hogwood, or Roger Norrington? Arturo Toscanini, Otto Klemperer, Hans Rosbaud and Bruno Maderna sound so fresh, so now, (‘contemporary’) than Frans Brüggen, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Christopher Hogwood, or Roger Norrington. Why cant conductors conduct Beethoven today? Why cant artists art today? To see why: please peruse a current Christies or Sothebys Contemporary Art Auction catalogue and you will see straight away that everything is identically inane and mundane; dreary and deeply depressing: it is all depressingly daseinless: So if you want to feel deep depression buy yourself a Christies or Sothebys Contemporary Art Auction catalogue. (Bar Bacon who does not belong in a Contemporary Art Catalogue and uncannily looks uncomfortably out-of-joint but then, Bacon is an Old Master after all. Christies and Sothebys should sell their Bacon in the Old Masters auctions where Bacon rightly belongs; conversely, of course, the Old Masters are still our only true contemporaries. Ancient Egyptian Art is still not quite yet Contemporary Art being always already ahead of the contemporary by being the art of a future to come).

 

 

 

The Aesthetic Paradox

 

Why does ‘Contemporary Art’ always look so ‘old fashioned’, so dated, and done back then whilst ‘Old Masters’ always look so ‘modern’ and afresh and done just now? What does this say of time, of evolution, of progression, of a development? Why is so-called ‘Primitive Art’ always so much more modern than so-called: ‘Modern Art? What does this say of time, of evolution, of progression, of development? Why does old Bach always sound so much more modern than Boulez? Why is Bach always so ‘contemporary’ and Boulez always so ‘dated’? Bach is Timeless. The cliché that ‘great art is timeless’ is true: the cliché is true: the cliché is always true: to speak in clichés is to speak in truths: to write in clichés is to in write truths. It is true that great art is timeless; if art is not timeless then it is not true and so it is not art: ‘conceptual art’ and ‘contemporary art’ are necessarily-by-necessity done on time, done in time because they are ‘temporally correct’ (that is ‘aesthetical correctness’ akin to ‘political correctness’ and ‘aesthetic correctness’ is heard in effete ‘period-instrument’ performances of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. The odious oxymoron ‘conceptual art’ and the oxymoron ‘contemporary art’ are the ‘aesthetically correct’. Art cannot be ‘conceptual’. Art cannot be ‘contemporary’. Art is the refusal of the ‘temporal’. Art is the refusal of the ‘conceptual’.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                    

                                                                                                                                                                                      Ruben Pang, Theatre No. 9, 2011

 

 

 

                                                           

Placetract Earthism.

 

Robert Natkin was abstractly nominated as an Abstract Painter. Robert Natkin was a Placetract Painter. A painter of places that come-to-mind being-mind-places rather than geographical-places for places-come-to-mind which are ontological as non-geographical as non-biological for ontological-places are mind-scapes that we inhabit when not in the world that does not exist for the places of mind know there is no world to be in even if there is an earth to dwell in and the economy of earth is utterly other to that of the worldless-world which is not our-earth for planet-earth inhabits mind-places for-us to be-there as dwelling-dasein where there is no world to wonder in where there is no world to wander in only an earth to mind in as a place to be in out-of-body-in-of-mind where there is no place like home for the no-where is the no home of being home at mind for in your mind you are always at home when you are far from being-home for only when I leave home can I be at home on earth in mind anywhere any time and I am only ever free when not at home but on the road for to be truly free is not be on-the-road far-from-home free from property that is my unfreedom for property is nothing more than a coffin confining one to an absolute-alienation as a total-fear of being-free for your desire for property is your fear of freedom. And property is not a place. And we are not persons but potential freedoms as paces way from properties of unfreedom. We are not persons but places as places-displaced places-dispersed places-disseminated places dis-membered. Those that own property are ironically ontologically homeless-beingless-daseinless-placeless. We must refuse being interpellated into the incarcerating ideology of possessing property for property ferments a fear of the other propertyless place.

 

 

 

The Economy of the Throw

 

Bacon threw paint with precision for Bacon did not like the look of what he called ‘thrown about paint’ knowing that it lacked the controlled chance he so subconsciously aimed at. Throwing is one thing, throwing is one being; but what do we do after the throw? Bacon would know: either leave it there being-there or manipulate it there and then. Bacon also knew that the time one spent meant nothing and that often the best things happened fast and the worst things were clogged by over working and it is precisely this laboured and heavy-handed over-working we find in Freud, Auerbach and Kossoff where the paint is murdered by being muddied and mannered (man-handled).

One throw by Bacon has more intensity than the multiple throws or drips by Pollock because the more throws and rips one has there thrown-there dripped-there then the less intensity they have for they collectively cancel each other out; this is why Bacon was always spare with his throws and drips and this sparse sparseness gives the throw and the drip its intensity; it you were to juxtapose a claustrophobic Pollock bang next to an agoraphobic Bacon you would instantly have this sensation of the Bacon single shots and single drips have much more intensity, impact and poignancy than the serial throws and drips of Pollock; one throw or one drip hits the nervous system much more poignantly and intensely than multiple throws and multiple drips; analogous to the multiple and constant percussion in heavy metal music as also having less intensity than the singular timpani strokes in Mahler or Stravinsky or Shostakovich or Schoenberg; it is a sparse economic orchestration that gives percussion its intense punctuating poignancy as so exemplified and epitomised in Bacon’s ovoid black timpani strokes.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                                                Inge Borkh (1921 - 2018) - The Grain in The Voice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sound of the Paint: Sound Bites

 

What we are trying to get at here is that Pollock over orchestrates, and over cooks, rather like Strauss and Mahler, whilst Bacon is more akin to Berg or Webern. Musical analogy is important and significant since both Pollock and Bacon were musical painters rather than visual where the paint makes sound where we hear the paint before we see the paint with our bodies; Bacon and Pollock, like Rothko and Jawlensky, were essentially non-visual painters if that makes sense. The eye of the mind sees the paint through sound; vibrations of paint as musical waves. Abstract Figureism and Abstract Expressionism are musical rather than visual and heard by the mind-eye of the body-ear without vision if that makes sense. Here seeing is hearing; we hear the paint as a sight of sound silently echoing exogenous being there as a vibration-sensation of mesmerising musing-musical memory-murmurs Silence is heard even more subtly in the smear; that smear on being as the smear of being as being smeared in public as being smeared in private where smears are signs of smudged being and stretched being and stain being for the smear like the stain cannot be wiped away for we all know by now that the more that you rub at a stain or a smear then the larger it becomes and the deeper it goes as do the smears in the third panel of the 1953 Three Studies for the Human Head that Sylvester could not even sell for £60 since it looked like a smear on the character of Sylvester as smeared by Bacon (who learnt early on the elegant economy of the suave smear through the sound of slapping as well as being smeared with certain substances. For Bacon the smear is a sound and for Bacon paint pertains to certain sounds of dread-dasein where paint stabs, paint smears, produce particular stain-sounds of our being-there for we hear paint before we see paint in Bacon imagery. The pungently-poignant primordial-paint sound-world of Bacon is heard in the scores such as Pelleas und Melisande by Schöenberg and Asrael Symphony, Opus 27 by Josef Suk. The nervous-system somehow hears the paint before the eyes see the paint; paradoxically, the scream in Bacon is never heard only seen; the scream is serene in Bacon, made in pleasure and not made in pain; the pleasure of the paint negates the pain in the Bacon Scream. The Scream of Bacon is not of the same sound as the Scream of Munch. For Bacon, the Scream presents the abysmal origins of our abjected jouissance: jettisoned pleasure: (being without meaning). Bryan Robertson unwittingly reveals the beautiful found in the ugliful when comparing the brittle sound heard in Callas to the brittle sound heard in Bacon:

“Perhaps the banal handling of paint describing a hypodermic syringe in his last show was deliberate: if Callas can make an ugly sound for solid dramatic reasons Bacon can do the equivalent with pigment.” (Bryan Robertson, Behind the Pulpit, The Spectator, Friday, 13 August, 1965). What is uncannily described as an ugly sound merely means a sound alien to our commonsense construction of a beautiful sound for Inge Borkh, Maria Callas, Billie Holiday, Big Mama Thornton, Della Reese, Leonie Rysanek did not have what is commonsenseically classified as having a beautiful voice. The burly and tough textures of sound heard from Jon Vickers are akin to the muscular and strident sounds heard in the paint of Francis Bacon. Whilst both Bacon and Heidegger were not musical men there paintings and writings were immensely musical and poetical with both operating outside of illustration.

 

 

 

Attaining Absolute Jouissance: The Grain the Voice as the Grain in the Paint

 

Francis Bacons paint is predominantly vocal but not the sound of the scream but the grain in the voice as the grain in the paint as heard in Inge Borkh, Maria Callas, Judy Garland, Leontyne Price, Leonie Rysanek, Astrid Varnay, Sarah Vaughan and Ljuba Welitsch for it is all of these sublime-singers of absolute-jouissance that echo-sensation the ab-sounds of Bacons ab-paint as the grain in the voice being the grain in the paint and such singers always risked their voices gambling on the gain in the voice to paint the primal scene as heard in Bacons vocal paint. I succinctly remember seeing a Billie Holiday LP in Bacon’s studio in 1982 and Holiday epitomises the grain in the voice as the pain in the voice echoing through the pain in the paint through the grain in the paint that is the grain in the voice coming through the paint which is always aural before it is visual in Bacons paintings that are primarily operatic and vocal rather than theatrical and visual. So not surprisingly like the sung paint of Bacon:  Borkh, Callas, Garland, Mödl, Price, Rysanek, Varnay, Vaughan and Welitsch sang straight to the nervous system by passing the intellect and illustration (narrative) through their grainy-visceral ab-sounds and so when we hear these grainy ab-voices we also hear Bacon’s grainy ab-paint that thus then attains an absolute-jouissance-in-itself dissolving descriptive discourse rendering the ridiculous odious and obnoxious art critics redundantly obsolete and oblivious: for Bacons ab-paint there is nothing to be said nothing to be written: all art analysis is anal: diarrhetic diatribes.

The grainy-paint of Bacon and the grainy voices of Borkh, Callas, Garland, Mödl, Price, Rysanek, Varnay, Vaughan, and Welitsch all attain an absolute-jouissance that thus by-pass the symbolic-scene (representation) by being the presentation of an attainable object as the real object of desire which is attained from the the grain-in-the-paint and the grain-in-the-voice (even if Lacanians and Zizekians – largely white heterosexual males – cannot attain absolute-jouissance).  Bacon, Borkh, Callas, Garland, Mödl, Price, Rysanek, Varnay and Welitsch do not represent the real-thing of absolute-jouissance but rather present it raw as-it-is as the absolute-jouissance real-thing of the real-infinite-in-itself as an initiating infinity-in-itself since the sounds of the paint and the sounds of the voices are articulators-arbiters of inserting-initiating infinities in immortals making mortalities into immortals thus there is no death-drive for our dasein knows no death and thus the dasein-drive knows we are immortal-infinite instead where we know no finitude where we no mortality where we know no death drive for the grain of the paint and the grain of the voice immediately imbues-inserts infinities-immortalities into dasein-drives where we are wetted with paint wetted with voice as deliriously drenched delicious dasein of attained-absolute jaw-dropping jouissance.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                       

                                                                                                                                                   Detail from the third panel of Three Studies of the Human Head, 1953

 

 

 

 

Paint as Flesh

 

The fleshness of the paint can only ever be achieved by the freshness of the paint and Bacon loved the paint to be very fresh like freshly whipped-cream and all that luxurious-cuisine that glistens and sizzles so seductively since one can actually smell as well as taste the culinary paint of Bacon which is always edifyingly edible as you want to eat the paint much more than you want to look at the paint as it is the taste of the paint that matters most indeed matters moist in Bacon yet the acrid taste of the dry paint in Freud, Auerbach and Kossoff is absolutely awful tasting rancid and bitter and sour made with cheap ingredients and always over cooked and too dry and impossible to digest. What does the paint of Bacon taste like as it is not a neutral-disinterested paint or plain food and certainly not plane food and the paint of Bacon is not just a question of taste that is aesthetics as paint being a question of good taste as having good taste but also a question of sound for how does the paint of Bacon sound like or rather what sounds do paint passages and paint slashes and paint blobs make when you come across them and you listen to them for the first time for the paint of Bacon is ontologically and primarily musical as certain sounds are produced by certain paint skid marks that go straight to the mind and the body bypassing our brained consciousness altogether.

Bacon was well aware that painting was coming to an end whilst painting was paradoxically maybe not paradoxically at all beginning to start for the ends of painting are the signs of the beginnings of painting as the ending of art always marks the beginning of art yet art can never get started whilst art can never get ended for art is the refusal of the beginning and the refusal of the ending erasing the dasein-delusion that was once nominated as Art History for Bacon knew more than any Art Historian of the impossibility of Art History knowing that so-called Ancient Egyptian Art was always afresh-anew and ahead of so-called Contemporary Art which is always so dated. But Bacon was also well aware that with the advent of photography painting was just beginning just beginning again just beginning all over again as painting after photography which is painting ahead of photography leaving photography retarded and redundant because the photograph always lies as well all know for none of us look like that which is why there are no photographic portraits per se because the camera remains locked at the illusory level of instant illustration unable to record the duration-dasein of portrait-painting where taking-the-time-is-imperative-in-painting-the-portrait as Rembrandt reveals: Rembrandt, Titian and Velázquez are the essential painters of over time painting the ontology of time all the time in time in real time in real being which gives their time-being protracts their poignant-presence of passing-through-time all-the-time being-in-time and out-of-time at the same time: their timelessness is their timefullness: great abart is precisely timeless because it is precisely timefull: the radicality of great abart announces to us all the absolute impossibility of a so-called art history and of any history as such.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                           

                                                                                                                                                                Detail from Study for Portrait of Van Gogh , Francis Bacon, 1956

 

 

 

 

 

Illustrating contra Painting

 

The mind and the body read abstract expressionism and non-illustrational portraiture through the mind of the body and the body of the mind by-passing the brain because the non-illustrational paint acts upon the nervous system before it is interpreted’ intellectually by the brain. Our mind-body and body-mind are a no-brainer as a non-braining as non-intellectual (non-thinking) read the raw-paint as primordial-stuff without an intellectual reference for there is nothing out there to refer it’ to because ontological-paint being-primordial is the extra-empirical and not the commonsense-empirical of intellectual-insight that cannot see paint in itself as itself as it were as it was as it is. The art critic tends to use the brain to read the painting rather than using the body to read painting or using the mind to read paining because art critics’ tend to be bodiless and tend to be mindless as a whole as a hole as it were. One rarely sees an art critic with a body that is wearing a body on that is having a body. Thus the disembodied art critic’ tends to use the head to think through rather than think with the body rather than thing through the body.

My brain does not read abstraction expressionism or non-illustrational portraiture and so my work and the work of Francis Bacon are far closer to abstract art than to figurative art which is still ‘interpellated’ into illustrational photorealism which, paradoxically, always looks so unreal; as Bacon correctly stated: the more artificial that you make something, the more chance you have of making it look real. It is so unsettlingly uncanny that hyper-realist (photorealist) portraiture never actually looks real because what is real is never sharp or in focus; which is also why we cannot be photographed because the face is that refusal of photography since the skin resists the site of film which is of another skin and the ontic-eye of the camera is alien to the eye of ontology which is why there are no photographs which can render-record the face for only paint can render-record the face real of being human or alien or otherwise: photographic portraiture is an odious oxymoron because the face cannot be photographed because the face stretches over time all the time not now but forever nows. When we meet Bacon in the meat, in the flesh, in the being, then we immediately realise what was always absolutely absent from photographs of Bacon: those frozen-frissons that Bacon emanated, pulsated, vibrated, agitated in himself out of himself and in his paint and out of his paint. Indeed: when we see Bacon’s paint juxtaposed with Savilles paint we immediately bear-witness to a class-antagonism of paint where Bacon’s paint comes across as suave, refined, charming, elegant; aristocratic, high-class; whist Savilles paint comes across as crude, crass, common; tawdry and gaudy; harsh and brash, that is, profoundly proletariat and working-class (even if Saville has high-bourgeois manicured-hands and Bacon had ‘hard-labour workers claws; yet it was Bacon who had the high-class aristocratic hand when painting and it is Saville who has the working-class proletariat hand when painting. Such is the class distinction of the hand as that claw.

Servile Saville mimics a sort of slap-dash faked free-hand brush-stroke as a pseudo spontaneity pastiche-painting particularly reminiscent of twentieth-century German Expressionism; Saville’s pseudo-brush-strokes always come across as crude, coarse, common and callously-contrived lacking the finesse and eloquence and panache of Bacon’s highly-refined and sophisticated aristocratic paint-brush-strokes. Saville claims to be indebted to Bacon whilst remaining at the lazy-level of inane-illustration for why does Saville always illustrate but never paint the eyes, the ears, the nose and the mouth? Saville never reinvents realism unlike: Rembrandt, Fragonard, Van Gogh, Sargent, Degas, Nolde, Soutine, Auerbach and Bacon, who reinvented realism by doing facial features outside of inane illustration so thus therefore they all come way after Saville who, aesthetically realist speaking, predates them all.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                    

                                                                                                                                                                            Alexander Verney-Eliott, Self-Portrait, 1981

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                                               Francis Bacon, Study for a Portrait of Lucian Freud, 1965

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                       

                                                                                                                                                            Alexander Verney-Elliott, Self-Portrait after Emil Nolde, 1981

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                       

                                                                                                                                                                                    Emil Nolde, Frauen Portrait mit Hut, 1907

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                       

                                                                                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                                    Francis Bacon, Study for a Portrait of Lucian Freud, 1964

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                                              Alexander Verney-Elliott, Non-Illustrational Self-Portrait, 1981

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                                                    Francis Bacon, Study for Self-Portrait, 1976

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                  

                                                                                                                                                                                        Alexander Verney-Elliott, Self-Portrait, 1981

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                            

Francis Bacon, Study for a Portrait of Lucian Freud (1965) and Emil Nolde, Frauen Portrait mit Hut (1907) have cordially requested that Jenny Saville Red Stare Head IV (2006-2011) be removed from being juxtaposed placed alongside themselves; artworks, as a rule, on the whole, in roundabout way, do not entertain the idea of being placed next to certain ‘types’ of artworks, and, as a rule, on the whole, like to be ‘left alone’; for both Francis Bacon, Study for a Portrait of Lucian Freud (1965) and Emil Nolde, Frauen Portrait mit Hut (1907) found something so disingenuous and inauthentic about Jenny Saville Red Stare Head IV (2006-2011) with it being utterly devoiding dasein: since it did not ‘sit’ there, since it did not ‘fit’ there, as it were, as it was. Due to circumstances beyond our control we have now removed Jenny Saville Red Stare Head IV (2006-2011). We apologise for any stress caused.

Juxtaposing Red Stare Head IV (2006-2011) by Jenny Saville between Francis Bacon and Emil Nolde we can then immediately see just how crude and crass and clinically sterile Saville really is and how fake the mock paint is as a meretricious mimicry of painting with paint. The eyes are pure photoshop illustration surrounded by pastiche paint strokes to give it that painterly look but Saville does not understand the economy of paint as Saville simply has no style or finesse with her portraits looking so poor and so proletariat in their commonness which of course is profoundly politically correct (even if they are aesthetically incorrect’). Why does Saville not paint the eyes like the rest of the face with free brush strokes (even if those free brush strokes are anything but ‘free’)? In Red Stare Head IV (2006-2011), the eyes and the teeth are lazy illustration’ where Saville simply illustrates the eyes and simply illustrates the teeth without painting the eyes, without painting the teeth, and thus completely unable, or, maybe, just stubbornly unwilling, to reinvent realism’, as rightly requested and quested by Bacon. Jenny Saville should examine the non-illustrational mouth (above) in the Study for a Portrait of Lucian Freud (1964) by Francis Bacon; and maybe then learn something; that is, learn to actually paint a mouth without illustrating a mouth, without photoshopping a mouth. It is totally meaningless for art critics to keep on making bogus comparisons and references to befouled Bacon when writing about sanitized Saville since they have absolutely nothing at all in common.

Whilst Bacon cannot be reproduced’ in reproductions, and always looks so awful, Saville, somehow, always looks far superior in reproductions than in the flesh because the flat shiny glossiness of catalogue reproductions serve  illustration so serve Saville so well. Painterly painters such as Rembrandt, Titian, Velázquez, Turner, Constable, Sargent, Monet, Soutine, Nolde, Jawlensky, Kossoff, Auerbach, Bacon can never be reproduced in reproduction and can only be seen live in the flesh. Illustrators such as Bechtle, Close, Hockney, Maier, Ozeri, Saville only ever work well in reproductions and not live in the flesh because the paint is non-ontological and so there is nothing live and no flesh there. The paint of staid Saville is ontically dead and ontologically dead whilst the abpaint of: Turner, van Gogh, Sargent, Soutine, Nolde, Jawlesnky, Kossoff, Auerbach and Bacon is ontically alive and ontologically alive.

Non-Illustrational paint and Abstract Expressionist paint is raw to the core and so ontological whilst illustrational paint (photorealism to photo-shop) is necessarily non-ontological because the paint is not allowed to be’ in itself for itself. For Bacon and for Pollock it is the substance stuff of the paint thrown in a certain way that is the becoming of the ontology of paint where the wet paint, as Bacon says, has a life all of its own’, and lives on its own whilst illustrational paint is necessarily: dead paint. Safe Saville illustrates through filling-in-form (or painting-by-numbers) as a pastiche of painting without actually painting. Pang’s paint lives because Pang’s paint is ontological not illustrational. Pang has no fear of paint; paradoxically, staid Saville fears paint refusing to allow the paint ‘to be’ on-its-own to come-into-being to-be-paint-for-itself; Saville cannot make the paint come off’ whilst Pang can make paint come. Saville pretends to paint. Saville is not a painter per se; as such, Pang is a painter. This pretending-to-paint aptly comes across in the painting-by-numbers portrait Red Stare Head IV (2006-2011) where staid Saville illustrates’ the eyes, illustrates’ the nostrils, and ‘illustrates’ the teeth which are all surrounded by pseudo-paint brush-marks as post-modern pastiche-painting or a pretend-painting giving us the illustrational-illusion of paint: being-by-hand as if it were a real painting. Not surprisingly though stupidly Sotheby’s catalogue notes sutures Saville to Bacon juxtaposing Red Stare Head IV (2006-2011), with Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud (1965):

        “Executed on a monumental scale, Jenny Saville’s Witness is an extraordinarily seductive yet disquieting example of the artist’s iconic and provocative facture. Here abstract painterly marks meld, morph and collide together to form the armature of a woman’s head, thrown back in the throes of death with gushing blood-red painterly effusions oozing from her open mouth. Based on a photograph from a crime scene, Witness represents the culmination of a career long fascination with medical imagery, flesh, blood and wounds. Attesting to the raw, primitive power and unnerving honesty of the violence depicted in the present work, it was included in the notable exhibition Crash: Homage to J. G. Ballard at Gagosian Gallery, New York; an exhibition of works that celebrated the dark, car-crash fetishism of renowned novelist J. G. Ballard... Renowned for her richly layered, palimpsest approach to flesh and content, much like that of the British master and Saville’s idol Francis Bacon, Saville primarily works from memory in combination with auxiliary photographs, cutting and pasting different source images together to graft a new picture. Another deep-seated preoccupation that Saville shares with Bacon is an obsession with medical photographs, diseases, fleshy wounds and images of extreme humanness... Executed with Saville’s typical aplomb and artistic flourish, Witness is an absolute masterclass in tone and texture. Remarkable for its heightened use of colour, in the present work Saville has skilfully suffused her warm palette of rich, bloody crimsons and soft pinks with nuanced shades of complex cool blues and brilliant whites to pick out the subject’s limp and lifeless body and ghostly lips. Glutinous, energetic brush strokes dance across the canvas in bold exclamatory marks, exuding a captivating and palpable tactility that amplifies the work’s searing and intense realism.(Contemporary Art Evening Auction, Sotheby’s, 15 October, 2015).

What is this: extreme humanness? Where is this alleged: absolute masterclass in tone and texture? Where is this: the work’s searing and intense realism? Why is Savilles realism so: unreal? Unwittingly, Witness (2009) bears witness to the end of painting where the brush-stroke is without da-sein; just as the human is without being. What is so uncanny about Witness (2009) is that it comes across as pure pastiche of painting; flat, flashy and flippant, meretricious and mannered; as parody of painting; as a forgery of painting having something so fake about it, having something so unpainted about it; especially if you immediately juxtapose Witness (2009) with Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud (1965) in the Sotheby catalogue. Art Historians would never ever be able to understand that Jenny Saville’s Witness (2009) was painted way before Emil Noldes, Frauen Portrait mit Hut (1907) unable to simply see how Nolde is far more of the post-modernist than the Saville who is still stuck in the late 19th century; for our old Nolde paints the eyes outside of illustration whilst the staid Saville is only able to illustrate the eyes. If our old Rembrandt, our old Fragonard, our old Manet, our old Sickert, our old Sargent, our old Picasso, our old Nolde, our old Bacon, our old Auerbach (and our young Pang) can do the eyes outside of illustration then why the hell cant our old Saville do the eyes outside of illustration? She has no excuse now. The non-illustrational eyes, especially seen in Fragonard and Manet, especially seen in Sickert and Sargent, simply illustrate just how advanced and ahead they still are of our old scally Saville who clearly cannot do the eyes outside of academic illustration just like so many of her realist contemporaries’ (and which makes a complete mockery of the myth of art history’).

 

 

 

                                                 Bacon contra Illustration

 

 

                                                                                                                                                        

                                                                                                                                                                  Studie from Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1965) Francis Bacon

 

                                               

 

Saville would do well to spend several hours at the Gagosian Francis Bacon Couplings exhibition and bare witness to actual real paintings of facial features done outside of illustration. Saville professed to admire Bacon but never learnt from Bacon how to paint outside of illustration: Saville must take her time and have a long look at: Two Figures on a Couch (1967), where the facial-features are non-illustrational; Portrait of a Man Walking (c. 1953), where the mouth is non-illustrational; Two Studies from the Human Body (1974-1975), where the mouth is non-illustrational; Sleeping Figure (1959) where the feet are non-illustrational; and intensely interrogate the ruggedly refined bravura brushwork in Two Figures (1953). Saville has no excuses now. Saville must try harder. Saville must closely cross examine the non-illustrational faces in Two Figures on a Couch (1967) and ask herself: Why am I still stuck in illustration and why am I unable to paint facial features outside of illustration as Bacon does so successful? Why am I still stuck in illustration? Saville must closely reread Bacon on illustration and critically reflect upon why she still cannot move beyond illustration; and while she is at it, also ask herself: Why is it that literal realism never looks at all real: Francis Bacon was contra Illustration as insisted upon, and illuminated in, numerous interviews.

 

 

Painting has nothing to do with illustration, it is in a way its opposite, rather as decoration is also quite the opposite of painting.

Francis Bacon in conversation with Michael Archimbaud

 

 

 

I try to make concentrations of images   Not illustration of reality but to create images which are a concentration of reality and a shorthand for sensation  —  If I drew it I’d just be making an illustration of the drawing  —  I paint images of sensation. What is life but sensation?

Francis Bacon in conversation with Melvyn Bragg

 

 

 

Its not all that difficult to sit down and illustrate a wave breaking on the shore, but thats just going to be one more illustration of a wave breaking on the shore, which is better done by photographs. And so you have to find a ay by which you can present this wave breaking. The only real thing now in portraiture is to make not just an illustration of the person but to make an image of them.

Francis Bacon in conversation with Joshua Gilder

 

 

 

“Whatever people say, Ive got nothing of an expressionist. My painting isnt about expression, its about instinct. I dont express. I try to remake the image of reality that is in my mind. I dont want literal realism, illustration. To create realism without falling into illustration you have to invent a technique. Painters attempt from generation to generation to find ways of returning an image onto the nervous system. One by one, the techniques of the past wear out. Yet one still wants to paint the same things a body or a face. So you have to reinvent technique in order to find a new way of conveying something, such as a chair, onto the nervous system . . . All the painters who interest me have succeeded in doing this, and particularly Van Gogh, who did it in such an extraordinary way a very simple but also a very mysterious way. After all, who can say how they work those little touches of colour he covered the canvas with and which immediately convey or, better still, recreate a tree, a plant or grass?”

Francis Bacon interview with L’Express, 15—21 November, 1971

 

 

 

I have deliberately tried to twist myself, but I have not gone far enough. My paintings are, if you like, a record of this distortion. Now I want to do portraits more than anything else, because they can be done in a way outside illustration. It is a gamble composed of luck, intuition and order. Real art is always ordered no matter how much has been given by chance.

I’m trying to do some portraits now and Im just hoping that theyll come about by chance. I want to capture an appearance without it being an illustrated appearance. I dont know how much its a question of sensation about the other person. It’s the sensations within yourself. Its to do with the shock of two completely unillustrational things which come together and make an appearance.

Francis Bacon in conversation with Michael Peppiatt

 

 

 

For example, I’m very interested in trying to do portraits, which now is almost an impossible thing to do, because you either make an illustration or a charged and meaningful appearance. It’s a continuous hazard, chance, or accident. I start, in a sense, almost like an abstract painter, although I hate abstract painting. I hate it because I think it can only end in decoration. But this dilemma ... how are you going to make a nose and not illustrate it? What stroke will make this nose a strong nose? Well, it’s chance. It is when for a moment chance has given you something which you can seize on and begin to build on. All the way through on anything of mine that works at all, it is like an accident that has slid into the right position.

Actually, I always know what I want to do but I never know how to do it. I plan, I think, I lay down all sorts of plans for myself about how it will be, or how it will look, but as I’m so reliant upon accident, it takes a long time for the accident to happen—for the sensation I want to come about, for my plans to fall into the form of reality that will satisfy me. I don’t begin by drawing on the canvas. I make marks and then I use all sorts of things to work with —old brooms, old sweaters, and all kinds of peculiar tools and materials. I know my paintings don’t look like that, but they start out like that because, you see, otherwise I should be making only illustrations. So that is the dilemma—perhaps the dilemma of all art today. Because if you know how to do something, it’s going to be just an illustration of an idea—and that’s not at all what I’m after.

Francis Bacon in conversation with John Gruen

 

 

 

“When you think about British painters – Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach – they never really became abstract. There’s an abstraction within, but there’s still figuration. The danger if you’re more figurative, is that you can belittle things by describing them, or illustrating them. There’s always that fear. This is why I always say figuration is so much harder, because of that line you can cross into illustrating – just showing what something looks like.”

“Bacon is actually pretty flat, and of course he was very afraid of being an illustrator. I think he relied on the glass a lot, but he’s clever in directing the way the viewer looks. You can’t just get it straightaway. We look at things so much in reproduction, and of course, in reproduction you don’t get any of that, you just get the flat image. So many Americans don’t get Bacon, and I wonder if you really need to see it in the flesh, because if you see it in reproduction, it’s so flat.”

Cecily Brown in conversation about Francis Bacon

 

 

 

Bacon claims explicitly to be a figurative artist, but in the course of the discussion he several times stresses his distrust of what he calls “illustration”—that is, a too literal transcription. Bacon’s work takes on the appearance of a battle conducted on two fronts, perpetually under threat of allowing itself to be dominated by one or other tendency and to fall either into abstraction or into illustration.

To paint figuratively without being illustrative is, if one sets about it rigorously, like trying to square the circle. For a long time Bacon attempted to solve this problem by speculating on what might be called the subjugation of chance. Chance intervenes in two ways: as pure accident, in the necessary uncertainties involved in the handling of a pencil or brush, and as provoked accident, whereby the painter would project paint on to his canvas more or less at random, and rub or smear those shapes that were becoming too lifelike and so restore chaos. Bacon exploited these effects either directly or by adopting them as suggestions, and they helped him to avoid an unduly straightforward figuration.

Michel Leiris, The Art of Francis Bacon, Times Literary Supplement, 18 March, 1977

 

 

 

Bacon was very much a performer, his art a display of making, unmaking and remaking. He spoke often of “illustration” as the thing to be avoided, to be destroyed by subjecting it to various controlled accidents — introducing the “irrational” and then “taking advantage of what happens when you splash the stuff down”. Bacon had an enormous, one might say an irrepressible gift for rendering a lively, fleshy surface, and the caricaturist’s knack of extracting a likeness from chaos. It was this illustrational impulse that required all the blots to disperse; it then recouped these blots into those disturbingly ungraspable swerves of flesh, half-optical blur, half-physical slurp.

Risk was at the heart of Bacon’s painting. There was the risk that the accident might prove unusable. There was also the risk that the image would coalesce into mere proficiency. In the scenes and portraits of the Sixties and Seventies, a delicate balance was maintained between the image and the virtuoso formal invention. But the illustration was always lurking there, sustaining the effects, and sometimes peeping through a little too much — suggesting that if the distorting operation was suspended entirely, only a glib facility would emerge. In the paintings of the Eighties those ungraspable ectoplasmic manifestations settled down into something straighter. Faces appeared in slick and often cute solidity — the flesh only marginally smeared, the once-evanescent highlights landing as a blob on the end of a nose. The bodies became twisted and amputated cartoons, a Disney nightmare. The artist’s hand and illustrative skill were then on show too clearly.

Tom Lubbock, So much for Bacon the man: what of the work?, ARTS, The Independent on Sunday, 3 May, 1992

 

 

 

Of course one does put in such things as ears and eyes. But then one would like to put them in as irrationally as possible. And the only reason for this irrationality is that, if it does come about, it brings the force of the image over very much more strongly than if one just sat down and illustrated the appearance, which of course millions of art students all over the world can do.

Well, now, what personally I would like to do would be, for instance, to make portraits which were portraits but came out of things which really had nothing to do with what is called illustrational facts of the image; they would be made differently, and yet they would give the appearance. To me, the mystery of painting today is how can appearance be made. I know it can be illustrated, I know it can be photographed. But how can this thing be made so that you catch the mystery of appearance within the mystery of the making?

What has never yet been analysed is why this particular way of painting is more poignant than illustration. I suppose because it has a life completely of its own. It lives on its own, like the image one’s trying to trap; it lives on its own, and therefore transfers the essence of the image more poignantly. So that the artist may be able to open up or rather, should I say, unlock the valves of feeling and therefore return the onlooker to life more violently.

Well, illustration surely means just illustrating the image before you, not inventing it. I dont know if I can say any more about it than what you know. I can quite easily sit down and make what is called a literal portrait of you. So what I’m disrupting all the time is this literalness, because I find it uninteresting.

And in my case, I feel that anything Ive ever liked at all has been the result of an accident on which I have been able to work. Because it has given me a disoriented vision of a fact I was attempting to trap. And I could then begin to elaborate, and try and make something out of a thing which was non-illustrational.

Ive often found that, if I have tried to follow the image more exactly, in the sense of its being more illustrational, and it has become extremely banal, and then out of sheer exasperation and hopelessness Ive completely destroyed it by not knowing at all the marks I was making within the image — suddenly I have found that the thing comes nearer to the way that my visual instincts feel about the image I was trying to trap.

After all, man wants invention, he doesnt want to go on and on and on just reproducing the past. You want something new. Not an illustrative realism but a realism that comes about through a real invention of a new way to lock reality into something completely arbitrary.

I believe that realism has to be re-invented. It has to be continuously re-invented. I believe that reality in art is something profoundly artificial and that it has to be recreated. Otherwise it will be just an illustration of something — which will be very second-hand.

Well, I think that the difference is that an illustrational form tells you through the intelligence immediately what the form is about, whereas a non-illustrative form works first upon sensation and then slowly leaks back into the fact. Now why this should be, we dont know.

I dont think its abstract. I think Michaux is a very, very intelligent and conscious man, who is aware of exactly the situation that he is in. And I think that he has made the best tachiste or free marks that have been made. I think he is much better in that way, in making free marks, than Jackson Pollock. What gives me the feeling is that it is more factual: it suggests more. Because after all, this painting, and most of his paintings, have always been about delayed ways of remaking the human image, through a mark which is totally outside an illustrational mark but yet always conveys you back to the human image  a human image generally dragging and trudging through deep ploughed fields, or something like that. They are about these images moving and falling and so on. (Bacon to Sylvester).

Francis Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester

 

 

                                                                                                                                               

The jump is Bacon’s, and it is made in a veritable assault on his own illustrational talent. If there is a ‘will to power’ in Bacon’s treatment of the image, it passes by way of a wilful disruption by which Bacon suspends his attempt to capture the reality of his subject (or the ‘image’ he has in mind) and gives his efforts over to chance. It is not simply that he welcomes accident with the brush or a toss of paint. Rather, the need to render the reality in question (‘the fact you are obsessed by’) at the level at which it strikes the ‘nervous system’ prompts a desperate passage through what Deleuze aptly names after Maldiney a ‘catastrophe’ (Logique, 67). In fact, this disruption is anything but wilful (though Bacon seems to have learned to modulate it), because Bacon emphasizes repeatedly words like ‘exasperation’, ‘hopelessness’, ‘frustration’, ‘despair’, ‘impossibility’ and ‘abandon’ to describe what drives him to this passage. He must destroy illustration to release the image latent in sensation or offered to ‘instinct’ in this moment of passage by what may not be quite the limit-experience portrayed in the crucifixion, but certainly an exposure to a presubjective dimension.

Christopher Fynsk, What remains at a crucifixion: nietzsche/bacon; The Eight Technologies of Otherness, Routledge: 1997

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                        

                                                                                                                                                                                 Francis Bacon, Two Figures on a Couch, 1967

 

 

 

 

 

Thick Paint as Thick Time

 

The dense thick texture of Time echoes the dense thick texture of Paint. Since Time has a specific texture just as Paint has a specific texture. Velázquez paints Time, Vermeer paints Time, Rembrandt paints Time, Turner paints Time, Bacon paints Time: yet all paint time in their own time for their time being of painting time. Whilst Freud and Auerbach paint turdistical congested claustrophobic Time where Time is turned to Turd where Time is Shit.

Bacon deliberately evades and avoids Time in Paintings unlike Rembrandt who Paints Time painting-time-all-the-time and nothing but time-all-the-time and nothing but the being of time as the time of being as the sign of aging of the body aging but without being-in-itself ever aging because our ontology of time necessarily never ages unlike our biology of time as the body of time aging all the time but Bacon never ever ages in time in his Self-Portraits for their are no Signs of Aging in the Self-Portraits of Bacon whilst there are always Signs of Aging in Rembrandt Self Portraits even if there are no Signs of Being aging in Rembrandt Self Portraits because Being does not Age in Time.

There is no death-at-work in the Self-Portraits of Bacon whilst there is death-at-work in Rembrandt Self-Portraits yet this death-at-work only works on the body and not on the being of Rembrandt whilst the being of Bacon is not longer there after 1970 even-if there-is of-spirit still-there for spirit and being are not of the same ontological order since spirit can still be-there even if a being is not there and Bacon became spirit as a ghost of being not being-there even when Bacon was still there in body up to almost the end for they all say that Bacon was not there anymore after 1990 where being and spirit deserted his dasein with Bacon becoming a representation of an apparition. Late in life Bacon paints self-portraits not as an aging man but as ageless woman with no signs of aging, no lines of aging no lines of aging, unlike Rembrandt whose aging face is lined with time all the time being done in being done over by time.

 

 

 

Obeying the Ontology of Time Order

 

Contrary to the current misconceptions of Baconian tropes and clichés there is no sense of mortality, no sensation of mortality, in the paint and in the painting of Bacon no sense of dasein-decay but rather a a sense and a sensation of living-life-to-the-full or living-life-to-the-empty as the coming-off-of-being-there as a jubilant-jouissance lust-for-life free-from-suffering and so thus decay and death are not present are not at there in the paint and painting of Bacon and the paint and the painting of Bacon are always already the all-fresh of the right-now and not the over-time for all-the-time-in-the-world is concentrated into the now-sensation of the no-time-at-all painted outside of time and within this outside of time is actual authentic ontological time as the sensation of time at a time, at a particular time, at a peculiar time, when being came into the time of its being at the same time as being jettisoned from time. all the time for all time, being both its own time for all time and no time for no time at all; thus Rembrandt and Bacon paint the sensation of ontological-time distinct from their ontic-time that they resisted all-the-no-time.

Rembrandt understood the ontology of time and the biology of time where the biology of time is ageing whilst the ontology of time is ageless never aging for the being of time does not age whilst the biology of time is the aging of the body of being but Bacon does not know the biology of time in painting since the self-portraits of Bacon are of his ontological time as time without dasein or dasein without time and for Bacon time is not passing but takes its time being in stasis being a throw of time torn from time as a stain of shot semen forever there-being shinning-there shimmering-there glittering-there gleaming-there being-there as the forever-now there that knows no time of being. Rembrandt grew younger with age such is the ontology of time eclipsing and negating the biology of time all-the-time out of time; likewise, Bacon, ontologically, grew younger with age in his late self-portraits and in his lives. For Rembrandt being passes time like for Bacon being passes time; that is; for Rembrandt and for Bacon both stay as a certain time all-the-being within-a-time being that time for all time as that time of being a sensation of a time.  

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                        

                                                                                                       

                                                                                                                                                             Self-Portrait with Dishevelled Hair, 1628, Rembrandt van Rijn

 

 

 

                                                                       

 

Paint as Spirit

 

Paint painted Ontologically outside of Illustration is the Materiality of Spirit as Spirit materialised made Real as what Spirit looks like as the Flesh of Spirit for Flesh is Spirit and not Meat and yet Some still confuse the two taking the flesh to be of the same similar economy of meat as being made up of the same sort of stuff but flesh is not meat so when Bacon paints a portrait ontologically Bacon paints the Flesh of the Spirit as painted Sprit as spirited paint and here Bacon is uncannily akin to Jawlensky and today this still remains a secret as Bacon and Jawlensky are seen as being poles apart yet both painted the Flesh of Spirit through presencing the being-there of the paint-spirit.

That dragged-swiped paint in the left panel of Three Studies for a Self-Portrait (1967) has an immediate effect on our body in our being before thinking before thought can be formed to form a thought about it as a reading of it and once read once thought we are then left with no reading of it no thought of it since this paint is painted primordially before that advent of thought whilst remaining fresh and alive existing always already way after the last thought; the paint is horribly old yet seductively new as we know it has only just been painted whilst knowing it has been painted before the human being even existed since such ab-paint is the after-birth of the before birth of being human. Painting is our writing before writing and our writing after writing that is read as the instead of what is written with words which cannot write with the writing of painting without meaning for wording needs meaning but painting does not need meaning (even if aesthetically-castrated art-critics need meaning): needing meaning is fearing painting, is fearing sensationing. Necessarily then: reading about painting is not understanding painting.

Painting is understandably the ending of writing for painting begins where writing ends and writing begins where painting ends which is why there can never be such a thing as Art Writing which is an odious oxymoron for painting is alien to writing and writing is so alien to painting so thus you cannot write about painting or drawing or sculpting because they are primordial languages which cannot be translated into writing which is far too intellectual and far too meaningful to be able to grasp arting which is necessarily non-intellectual and anti-intellectual but of course art careerists’ who do Art Writing will necessarily protest and write inanities about art.

Look at the sleeve in Portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels (1659) by Rembrandt and you will see it repeating itself in the same swish of white-whipped paint as in the Last painting by Bacon of George Dyer (1972) where we witness that same fresh whipped whiteness of swipe spirit and this Rembrandt and this Bacon thus then defy the inane idiocy of an Art History for what they present is pure spirit right now as having been painted planted there just right now in this split-second as both these swipes of spirit have just been presented and are always just being-presented just happened still smelling fresh still sounding fresh and it is this freshness of paint that is the living being of paint.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                       

                                                                                                                              White whipped sleeve swipe spirit in Portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels (1659) by Rembrandt

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                  

                                                                                                                                  Detail from Triptych August 1972: The very last actual-real painting by Francis Bacon

 

 

 

 

Sabulous Sein: The Grain in The Paint

 

Bacon began as a brave-bezonian, as a raw-rascal, ripe-recruit, fermented freshly from painting-without-training not knowing how to do it letting the paint do it on your behalf as sabulous paint in its gritty groininess. Bacon paints fabulously sabulously from around-about 1949 to around-about 1969 and then sadly stops painting with ontological paint so ending up abandoning painting and doing that very sinful thing Bacon despised most of all:  illustrating’ where the paint loses its being its very ability to be as paint-being-in-itself-for-itself and thus Bacon died as a painter just after Dyer died ending with that sparkling spunked-spirit swipe in the last painting:  Triptych August 1972.

For Bacon the grain in the paint paints the pain in the paint. The wrong side’ of the canvas has a roughness which initiates-induces this rugged raw graininess when the brush brushes against it. Grain grit is also antithetical yet complementary to the smooth-surface of the painted ground like a bed of soft strings whilst the grain in the paint is the percussion. The grain in the paint becomes the timpani role; and this is not an analogy or metaphor for music is not a metaphor for paint and paint is not a metaphor for music  but rather Bacon’s paint is music to the ears as paint to the ears as paint to the ears: You primarily hear Bacon’s paint before you see Bacon’s paint and when you simply assume you see Bacon’s paint you actually do not because there is nothing to see in the sense of commonsense seeing but rather you hear the sight as the site of paint heard hearing you hearing it for Bacon’s paint hears you smelling the sight of the seen heard which is why Bacon’s paint is necessarily non-visual (non-empirical) because the grain-grit in the paint castrates the vision of seeing the site which Bacon’s paint blinds you from seeing sight.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                  

                                                                                                                                                                                  Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait, 1968

 

 

                                                                                                                                    

 

Dead Paint of Living Painters and the Living Paint of Dead Painters

 

Why cannot painters today paint in such a fresh way where the paint sounds-spirit and lives on its own as a life of its own as a life-force all of its own for even the faked freshness of Jenny Saville always comes across as being over rehearsed dead-paint just as Freud comes-off as dead-paint there as a being-dead painter always already dead for when the paint is ontologically dead to begin with then one begins to then question if Freud  actually ever lived for paint is, after all the extra-empirical evidence for the existence of the painter; for only if the painter is in fact ontologically alive will the paint ever be-alive for da-sein is not always there in painting not always there in sculpture.

If you look at the portraits of Jenny Saville you will witness dry dasein with no wetness no moistness no sweatness no cuntness no cockness no noseness no mouthness no earness no eyeness no tearness no bloodness no spunkness since the paint has no being since the paint is not the stuff of sweating out and spunking off as the liquid-light of coming-off of being of being-there for we are witnessing no wetnessing of a drenched-dasein in these portraits which are illustrational in that the paint is in fact illustrational paint albeit it done is a mock-messy sort of a way to give a sensation of spontaneity yet there is absolutely nothing spontaneous in the portraits of Saville which are sort of updates on Freud but still very 19th century like Freud and one wonders why Saville or Freud have not learnt from Bacon, or Picasso, or Van Gogh. Saville is so scared of the stuff of paint, the smell of paint, the sight of paint, the sound of paint, the shit of paint, the spunk of paint, the piss of paint, the puss of paint; and so safely remaining dry’ and remaining at the non-painted dry-level of conscious-illustration with no leaking and no bleeding allowed.

There is no grain in Saville’s daseinless paint; Saville cannot get wet’; Saville cannot let leak’; Saville wraps paint in hermetically sealed cellophane free from contamination and corruption, free from abjection and ejaculation; Saville cannot make the paint cum, Saville cannot cunt the paint; Saville cannot let the paint leak so Saville cannot cum-to-paint to let the paint cum into being as being paint-for-itself: that is let the paint be as it wants to be as paint-in-itself-for-itself as the real-there being-paint being-real. Saville is pre-Degas in that the eyes, nose, mouth, ears are far too literal (drawn in’ and illustrated’) where the pseudo faux-paint pretends to be painted with all of its phoney-chancy rehearsed spontaneity; and because the pristine paint in Saville comes across as cut-and-paste photo-shop it therefore reproduces so extremely well in glossy-shinny Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction catalogues, whereas, paradoxically, Bacon does not reproduce because his primordial-ontology of ab-paint resists and refuses being reproduced and appears absent; also the small size of colour reproductions negate that being of his paint.

Indeed, it is quite literally absolutely impossible to reproduce in reproductions ontological painters such as Titian, Rembrandt, Velázquez, Turner, Constable, Sickert, Van Gogh, Nolde, Soutine, Auerbach and Bacon. The passive-violence of photographic-reproduction sterilizes and homogenizes the raw and rugged, grit and grain, of the dense-dissonance of the painted-surfaces so thus de-ontologizing the paint, killing the paint. Bacon can only be viewed in the flesh. Whilst Warhol and Saville, being non-ontological image-makers, are ideally suited for glossy catalogue reproductions by actually looking far better in reproduction than in reality because they cannot and do not exist in reality. Not surprisingly then, all Contemporary Art’ always comes across as being far superior in reproduction in Christie’s and Sotheby’s catalogues than on the walls of the auction houses where it always looks null and void.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                 

                                                                                                                                                                        Francis Bacon, Study for Head of Lucian Freud, 1967

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                                                                 Ruben Pang, Theatre No.6, 2011

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                                        Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, 1966

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                                                                   Non-Illustrational Self-Portrait A.V.E. 2000

 

 

 

 

        Unlike Jenny Saville, Ruben Pang can paint facial features outside of illustration as illustrated in Theatre No. 6 and this is painted with ontological paint unlike the paint of Saville which has non-ontological lacking dasein whilst pretending to be there with those pseudo-faux brush-strokes to give the appearance and presence of paint. Saville paints pre-Bacon whilst Pang paints post-Bacon in the Bacon 'tradition' of non-illustration. One would of hoped that our Saville would have learnt from our Pang who is arguably the finest living painter today. Pang has dasein because the being of the paint is there. Saville has no dasein because the being of the paint is not there.

        Study for Head of Lucian Freud (1967), is arguably the greatest portrait by Francis Bacon; unlike so many portraits by Bacon, it is actually painted, and not illustrated; indeed, this is one of the very few portraits that Bacon actually painted and by actually painted meaning where the paint actually forms the form, and does not merely fill it in, as with the awful illustrational non-painted double-portrait, Two Studies for a Self-Portrait (1970). The grain in the paint screeches like finger nails scratching across a chalkboard; the eyes hear the paint here; we see this portrait with our ear and taste it with our nostrils whilst our bodies shiver and spines tingle such is its sound.

Two Studies for a Self-Portrait (1970) is largely illustrational imprinted casually with corduroy trousers and cashmere sweaters and so one is perplexed as to why Oliver Barker stated: Two Studies for a Self-Portrait goes straight in at number one of all the paintings I’ve handled in my career... To my mind, the painting is worthy of a place alongside the very finest self-portraits of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Picasso... It’s certainly among the greatest self-portraits ever offered at auction. In this painting you see Bacon in a sense of great excitement in his life, this is an artist very much at the top of his game. For me this is one of the greatest paintings that has ever come to the market by Francis Bacon.  It’s certainly not among the greatest self-portraits ever offered at auction. Sales speak by sheer necessity of making sales castrates critique when one is selling such mediocre paintings for millions of pounds.

                                                                                                               

 

 

 

                                                            Framing Bacon

                                                                                                  The Economy of the Frame

 

                                                                                                                                                                 

                                                                                                                                                                                Study for Head of Lucian Freud, 1967, Francis Bacon

 

 

 

 

 

"The work of art still has something in common with enchantment: it posits its own, self-enclosed area, which is withdrawn from the context of profane existence, and in which special laws apply."

Theodor Adorno, The Dialectic of the Enlightenment, 1944

 

 

 

"Bacon’s seven paintings are capped by a big triptych of disquieting figures trapped within flat, blank, geometric voids and caged in a wide, golden frame — a Bacon signature. Art, like life, is its own prison, yet also a place for transgression."

Christopher Knight, 'London Calling' at the Getty and the tension between abstract and figurative painting, The Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2016

 

 

 

"I suggested, in Baconian fashion, that we have a drink at the near by Ritz. After all, he reckoned to have divided his life "between the gutter and the Ritz" a metaphor he continued in his art by insisting on those ritzy gilded frames, however squalid the subject they enclosed."

John McEwen, Terrible beauty or dirty mac decadence?, The Arts, The Sunday Telegraph, May 3, 1992

 

 

 

"Bacon wanted his pictures to endure; and that was surely the underlying reason why he decided to have their extravagant contents glazed and put in massive gilt frames, with all their raw paradox and enigma intact, just like the masterpieces enshrined in the great museums and churches of the world."

Michael Peppiatt,  The Sacred and The Profane; Francis Bacon - Studies for a Portrait,  Yale University Press: 2008

 

 

 

"I would have loved to work with Francis Bacon... He also liked the glass over his paintings. He liked the reflective quality. He thought it brought the viewer into the same visual plane as the work. I think it’s a good fit. On the occasion you see a Francis Bacon unframed or without glass, it never looks quite finished to me."

Larry Gagosian, The Man Who Makes the Art World Go-Go; GQ Style, GQ Magazine, September 12, 2019

 

 

 

"I feel that, because I do not use varnishes or anything of that kind, and because  of the very flat way I paint, the glass helps to unify the picture. I also like the distance between what has been done  and the onlooker that the glass creates; I like, as it were, the removal of the object as far as possible. It’s the distance – that this thing is shut away from the spectator."

Francis Bacon, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester: Thames & Hudson, 1987

 

 

 

"The parergon inscribes something which comes as an extra, exterior to the proper field (here that of pure reason and of Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone) but whose transcendent exteriority comes to play, abut onto, brush against, rub, press against the limit itself and intervene in the inside only to the extent that the inside is lacking. It is lacking in something and it is lacking from itself. "

Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting, University of Chicago Press: 1987

 

 

 

"I am not interested in painting as it has been accepted for so long – to hang on walls of houses as pictures. To hell with pictures – they should be the wall – even better – on the outside wall – of large buildings. Or stood up outside as billboards or a kind of modern 'icon'. We must make our art like the Egyptians, the Chinese & the African and the Island primitives – with their relation to life. It should meet the eye direct."

Ellsworth Kelly in a letter to John Cage: 4 September 1950

 

 

 

"For several reasons, he preferred his paintings to be hung under glass. As well as protecting the surface and establishing a distance between the picture and the viewer, the glass helped Bacon himself to achieve a sense of detachment that prevented him from revising or destroying his  own work. Above all, however, it had the effect of reducing the volatility of the surface structure and endowing the work with a stronger feeling of coherence and finality."

Wieland Schmied, Francis Bacon; Commitment and Conflict, 2006

 

 

 

"Bacon liked his paintings to be glazed and gold-framed. This distanced them, enhanced their costliness and gave them a propriety which the picture itself could then flout. He also liked the way one sees oneself dimly in the picture glass, as though window shopping at Dewhurst or Heal’s, superimposed on the seclusion within. Technically, Bacon was a gambler, so much so that new paintings often needed immediate attention from the restorer. His hit-and-miss attitude seemed part of a desire to tempt failure."

William Feaver, Raffish old master of the elusive, The Observer, Sunday, 3 May, 1992

 

 

 

"The most interesting, profound and introspective things can be said when there’s no prompting. So, to wait is one of the rules. The other is not to argue with their opinions; there’s no point. I said to Bacon when he put down Abstract Expressionism, so why do you think it moves me? And he said, 'oh, you’re too subject to fashion', or something like that. Well, I didn’t argue with him, and I didn’t argue with him about his idiotic opinions about Pollock. You’re not there to argue with the interviewee, but you are there to probe. I should have probed more."

David Sylvester, In memoriam David Sylvester - The art of the interview, Tate, Issue 26/Autumn 2001

 

 

 

 

"I always prefer my canvases to be in a frame and under glass. There is a current vogue for not framing pictures any more, but I feel that this is wrong, bearing in mind what a painting is. The frame is artificial and that’s precisely why it’s there; to reinforce the artificial nature of the painting. The more the artificiality of the painting is apparent, the better, and the more chance the painting has of working or of showing something. That might seem paradoxical, but it makes perfect sense in art: one achieves one’s goals by using the maximum of artificial means, and one succeeds much more in doing something authentic when the artificiality is patently obvious. "

Francis Bacon, In conversation with Michel Archimbaud, Phaidon Press: 1993

 

 

 

"Bacon insisted on highlighting the artificial nature of the illustration or narration of something connected with empirical reality. He prefers placing his paintings in heavy frames that distinguish them from the context, even going to the extent of protecting the painted surface with glass that, while protecting the natural form, impede our visual contact with it by adding a further element of interference, the reflection of light. At this point, from an accidental nuisance, the reflection becomes a rhetorical tool: the real spectator sees himself and his real outline reflected in a painting that is intermittently perceptible and thus becomes impenetrable, distant, and mysterious itself ."

Luigi Ficacci, Francis Bacon, Tachen: 2003

 

 

 

"Bacon always had his paintings glazed and framed, which notoriously makes viewing the paint more difficult and requires our movement to see beyond the reflective surface to the image behind. It may not be coincidental that this idea of glass as a surface, mirror and transparent membrane was first exploited by the French dada artist Marcel Duchamp in his major installation The bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even (The large glass) 1915–23. For Duchamp, this difficulty of seeing, including the reflection of the viewer in the glass, ensured the physiological participation of the audience in the work, transferring the construction of feeling from author to viewer. It is likely that Bacon embraced these effects as part of his interest in movement although he made little of it in his interviews."

Anthony Bond, Raw Emotional Encounters With Paint, Francis Bacon—Five Decades, Prestel Publishing: 2012

 

      

 

"At a time when museums are tending to remove the glass from all but the most valuable paintings and when artists are shying away from notions of fine art and precious objects, it is rare to find a painter who wants his work to be presented in so formal and even sumptuous a manner. Bacon explains that the glass is to ‘remove the images further. I don’ t think art is available; it’s rare and curious and should be completely isolated. One is more away of its magic the more it’s isolated.’  The dualistic nature of Bacon’s art the ability to maintain a balance between the ‘vivid’  and the ‘formal,’ to achieve the integration of small-sketch sensibility and large-canvas grandeur, to exploit the tension between figurative resemblance and the abstract accidentalism of technique accounts for his success in eluding categorization."

Hugh M. Davies, 'Bacon’s “Black” Triptychs', Art in America, vol.63, no.2, March-April, 1975

 

 

 

"A sense of dilemma leads me to reconsider a feature of his art that I have regarded as finicky and precious: his insistence that all his paintings be displayed behind glass, in gold frames. The only reason I could surmise for this was that Bacon used glass as a prosthetic gloss to unify his lurchingly fragmented surfaces. But having witnessed, at the Met, the gleaming parade of his career, I begin to understand the policy as a poignant gesture that weds decorative chic to fierce aspiration. Reflecting in more ways than one, the framing registers the viewer’s physical presence and, abstractly, the hermetic fate of Western painting, fallen from the Renaissance into a state of besiegement by cameras and printing presses. Bacon’s paintings objectify the subjective ordeal of perishing bodies that harbor immortal longings. In this, the paintings are indeed great, standing for a historical condition even of people who can’t abide them."

Peter Schjeldahl, Rough StuffThe New Yorker, June 1, 2009

 

 

 

"The frame: a parergon like the others. The series might seem surprising. How can one assimilate the function of a frame to that of a garment on (in, around, or up against) a statue, and to that of columns around a building? And what about a frame framing a painting representing a building surrounded by columns in clothed human form? What is incomprehensible about the edge, about the a-bord appears not only at the internal limit, the one that passes between the frame and the painting, the clothing and the body, the column and the building, but also at the external limit. The parergon stands out [se detache] both from the ergon (the work) and from the milieu, it stands out first of all like a figure on a ground. But it does not stand out in the same way as the work. The latter also stands out against a ground. But the parergonal frame stands out against two grounds [fonds], but with respect to each of those two grounds, it merges [se fond] into the other."

Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting, University of Chicago Press: 1987

 

 

 

"Other elements support these paintings and their figures to function as perfect Gestalt, however. Bacon was very outspoken about how he wanted his works to be shown. He wanted his paintings to be covered by glass. To hide paintings by glass is a kind of curse in the art world. It is only done in the case of extremely valuable paintings, which need to be protected, as required by the insurance. But Bacon thought that his paintings looked best when they were covered by glass. The glass in front of the painting tends to mirror the viewer’s body. It is as if the paintings’ potential functioning as a Gestalt for the viewer is emphasised, or made easier. The viewer has difficulty seeing the painting as paint. Te glass dissolves the materiality of paint and what can be recognised is only the represented figure and space. It is only after some effort, after the viewer has positioned herself at the right spot and angle, that she can look through the glass and see the skin of the figure as well as of the paint."

Ernst van Alphen, Skin, body, self: the question of the abject in the work of Francis Bacon; Abject Visions, Manchester University, July 2016

 

 

 

"There are good Bacons, sublime and terrifying ones, and a few failures. He must have been one of the most self-critical artists of the 20th century, a ruthless destroyer of his own work. Beyond a certain point he could not rework an image: it had to be scrapped. To hang on to it would have blurred and fouled up the "look" he prized, which was not highly finished — his way of painting on the wrong side of the canvas precluded finish — but, by the standards of "beautiful painting", disagreeably scrubby. But then, he did so admire and envy the old masters, and he paid a peculiar sort of tribute to them in the way he chose to frame and present his paintings, behind enormous sheets of glass (so that one had the fleeting impression of glimpsing something rather alarming, but involuntarily, as through a window) and surrounded by broad, thick, glittering, gilded mouldings, so polished and bright as to negate the idea of touch. The frame and its contents do not quite cancel one another out, but they imply cancellation. Which, together with the anguish of the body’s transgressive pleasures, is only another of Bacon’s paradoxes."

Robert Hughes, Horrible!, The Guardian, August 30, 2008

 

 

 

"What Bacon’s language tries to capture and transmit to the viewer, according to this perspective, namely the sensation as a condensed empirical perception of the Figure and its expression upon the canvas as a visual spasm, oscillating between abstraction and figuration, rather than as a visual representation (regarded in the tradition of representational art), pertains to his own view on art: “[…] what is of importance is not imagery of reality, but production of images, focusing on reality, and a brief clincher of sensation” (Hinton, 1985). What appears then to be an essential function of reflectivity during the exhibition of his paintings is exactly the introduction of the element of reality in its ostensibly accurately represented form: that of reflection. This breach that allows the violation of the artistic language by the intrusion of another kind of language — which is dynamic, yet organized by means of a physical law, operating indiscriminately, and thus deterministically viewed as trueengenders a juxtaposition of the two that questions the fundaments of each: what is the ‘truest’ form of representation of reality? And further, how does the issue of ‘truthfulness’ interfere with the value ascribed to each form?"

Dimitris Chatzicharalampous, Reflectivity in Francis Bacon’s Exhibitions from a Textual-Semiotic Perspective, Southern Semiotic Review: Issue 5 (1) 2015

 

 

 

"We are told in Dawn Ades’ essay in the catalogue for the Tate Gallery exhibition that Bacon does not consider a picture finished until it is framed. He considers the glazing gives 'a unified texture to the painting,' and Ms Ades affirms 'the glass, then, is an essential element in the material surface of the paint' (page 9). It is a bit tempting to risk the picayune question whether there are many circumstances in which glass would not confer a 'surface' or for that matter be one ... or the impertinent observation that it’s no secret that posh frames and glass can make silk purses out of sows’ ears. One can ask more serious questions, make more sonorous observations, however. The enigmaticness of the paint and pastel effects of the glazed paintings are simply absent from unglazed ones. In these latter the onlooker is aware of a facture that is incompetent as a structural variant of that factural property which produces a dialectic of bathos and reassurance, a resonance between figurative or representational considerations and paint surface. The frames themselves are the top of the range. They confer a strange (and no doubt interesting) character of kitsch upon the paintings conceived as figural spectacles. Some of the most magnificently caparisoned paintings are, in some reading, spectacles of illegal thrills, flesh wounds, invoke radiography, diseases of the mouth, facial sores, scenes of violence, etc. To those contemplating these sights, the handsome frames present a voyeuristic safety."

Michael Baldwin, Mel Ramsden, Charles Harrison, Francis Bacon, Artscribe, No. 53, July-August 1985

 

 

 

"The point, for Bacon, is to get distance from reality, so as to keep feeling pure and alert, charged with abstract power. This holds true for the reality of his own works, from which he tries to make the spectator keep his distance by framing them in gold and glass. Such framing is the major example of the homosexual’s artificialism, which finalizes his aestheticism. The way Bacon takes an appearance as 'real' while knowing it is false is similar to Sartre’s example of Genet’s artificialism: the treatment of cut glass as a precious gem while knowing it is cut glass. Talking oneself into belief is crucial, to sustain the aesthetic sensibility which is the foundation of emotional responsiveness in art. Bacon wants his framing method — as though a precious setting would make us think the art precious, i.e., believe in it — to create 'distance between what has been done and the onlooker' and serve to 'shut (the work) away from the spectator.' It is better that it remain a mysterious symbol than indicate a familiar reality, or itself become one. The full import of the glass framing is that it creates a quasi-old-master look, doubly removing the work, in space as well as concept. This removal — the added distance — filters the feeling through with greater purity and power, as well as emphasizes that it is impossible for art to refer to anything beyond itself, i.e., that is not an appearance. Unwittingly, Bacon links up with modernism’s self-reflexivity, but in terms of feeling rather than form. On the level of feeling as well as form art is sui generic."

Donald Kuspit, Francis Bacon: The Authority of Flesh, ARTFORUM, Vol. 13, No. 10, Summer, 1975

 

 

 

"The late Francis Bacon might not appear to have very much in common with an anonymous 15th-century painter of devotional art from Pskov but his Small Portrait Studies at the Marlborough Gallery share a lot of the characteristics of holy Russian icons. If the icon-painter’s conventional treatment of the human face makes the saint seem like a being suspended between this world and the next, real yet also holy, Bacon’s self-created figurative conventions tend in the opposite direction. Rendering people as restive blurs of swiped paint, he makes of them an odd blend of the human and the animal. Bacon’s portraits, like icons, use the transfiguring capacities of painting to talk about the capacity to be transfigured that is inherent within all people but the difference is that, whereas the icon speaks of an upward transfiguration, an ascent to holiness, Bacon’s paintings see only the possibility of people becoming still less than they are. For the abstract gold ground of the icon, symbol of holiness, Bacon substitutes lurid grounds of dark red, green, pink or yellow: his people exist not in a sacred void but simply in a void. But these paintings are less despairing than they are often made out to be. At their best (up until the late 1960s), Bacon’s small portraits have a kind of savage, joyous vigour and carnality which communicates not existential gloom but a weird form of celebration something like the manic exuberance of someone who knows he does not have long to live but has decided (what the hell) to enjoy being alive while he can. These pictures find a kind of spiritual strength in the denial of spirituality."

Andrew Graham-Dixon, From icon to Bacon , The Independent, 26 October, 1993

 

 

 

"The experience of a work of art’s formal unity has, since Kant, been seen as a manifestation of some metaphysical unity: the unity of the faculties of cognition, or as an intuition of the unity of the Spirit. It is seen, in other words, as a symptom in one way or another of man’s at-homeness in the world. 'I hate a homely atmosphere', Bacon has said discussing the disjuncture between his painterly painting of forms and figures and the flat and linear handling of the backgrounds and inanimate objects with which they co-exist. 'I always feel that malerisch painting has a too homely background ... I want to isolate the image and take it away from the interior of the home'.  Another device Bacon has used to isolate figures is the space-frame, those perspectival lines that seem to demark often invisible enclosures, but which sometimes become part of the architecture in which figures or forms exist. Bacon’s is an emotive pictorial space, the space-frames are spatially incoherent. They refuse a consistent depth as well as two-dimensional pattern. They help to deny the integrity of the picture plane, that connoisseur’s happy ending, that banality of good taste. Bacon’s space is unsystematic, renegotiated, tested against affective resonance, against its imaginative life... In the discontinuities of pictorial language and space, Bacon articulates a rhetoric of the closed circle of the soul in a world that has lost meaning, lost coherence. But the isolation of figures within the space-frames is only an intensification of the predominant characteristic of most of his paintings; the isolated figure within the actual frame. Figures and forms alone within the rectangle of the canvas."

Andrew Brighton, Why Bacon is a Great Artist, Art Monthly, No. 88, July/August 1985

 

 

 

"Again Bacon’s effect was not only unexpected; the very dimension in which his shock was delivered was surprising. Bacon was painting now on defiantly raw and unprepared canvas. The paint soiled it or clogged it uncouthly. Then, by another defiant incongruity, heavy frames in burnished gold such as Paul Rosenberg himself awarded to Picasso and Braque, set Bacon’s almost insanitary coarseness in the most luxurious context imaginable. Another breach with fashion, as if to protect something refined and precious, these pictures were exhibited under glass. Bacon insisted on it and published the peremptory note pasted on the reverse as if it was a part of the picture. So it was; even the reflections in the glass added a unique completeness. There could be no more categorical defiance of conventional taste, the taste for the specifically visible qualities of visual art. The manifesto embraced the setting in which three pictures were exhibited, the most elegant gallery in the most elegant part of town where the floor was covered from wall to wall with a carpet of an intense violet that infused every impression and outlined the visitors’ own reflections as they strived to attend with old-fashioned seriousness to the intrinsic appearance of these disturbing pictures. The regal popes and the defecating dogs were rendered in the same broken paint; the same delusive mirage flitted across the glass. The carelessness and scorn in Bacon’s touch had from the beginning a marvelous bleakness, exciting to imaginative life. "I would like the intimacy of the image against a very stark background," he explained later. "I hate a homely atmosphere . . . I want to . . . take it away from the interior and the home."..."

Lawrence Gowing, Francis Bacon: The Human Presence; Francis Bacon, Smithsonian Institution, Thames & Hudson, 1989

 

 

 

"The problem of the frame and base, in painting and sculpture respectively, has never been examined by critics in terms of its significant implications as static. The phenomenon is registered but simply as a curious detail that escapes the problematics raised by the work of art. What had not been realised was that the actual work of art posited new problems and that it attempted to escape (to assure its own survival) the closed circuit of traditional aesthetics. To rupture the frame and to eliminate the base are not in fact merely questions of a technical or physical nature: they pertain to an effort by the artist to liberate himself from the conventional cultural frame, to retrieve that desert, mentioned by Malevich, in which the work of art appears for the first time freed from any signification outside the event of its own apparition. It could be said that all works of art tend towards the non-object and that this name is only precisely applicable to those that establish themselves outside the conventional limits of art: works that possess this necessary limitlessness as the fundamental intention behind their appearance. The artists of these tendencies continue – although in desperation – to make use of those conventional supports. With them the process is contrary: rather than rupturing the frame so that the work can pour out into the world, they keep the frame, the picture, the conventional space, and put the world (its raw material) within it. They part from the supposition that what is within the frame is the picture, the work of art. It is obvious that with this they also reveal the end of such a convention, but without announcing a future path. This path could be in the creation of these special objects (non-objects) that are accomplished outside of all artistic conventions and reaffirm art as a primary formulation of the world."

Michael Asbury, Primary Formulation; Neoconcretism and Minimalism: On Ferreira Gullar’s Theory of the Non-Object, Cosmopolitan Modernisms: 2005

 

 

 

"Being itself throws humanity into the course of this tearing-away, which forces humanity beyond itself, as the one who moves out to Being, in order to set Being to work and thus to hold open beings as a whole. Therefore the violence-doer knows no kindness and conciliation (in the ordinary sense), no appeasement and mollification by success or prestige and by their confirmation. In all this, the violence- doer as creator sees only a seeming fulfillment, which is to be despised. In willing the unprecedented, the violence-doer casts aside all help. For such a one, disaster is the deepest and broadest Yes to the overwhelming. In the shattering of the wrought work, in knowing that the work is un-fit and sarma (dungheap), the violence- doer leaves the overwhelming to its fittingness. Doing violence must shatter against the excessive violence of Being, as long as Being holds sway in its essence, as phusis, as emerging sway. But this necessity of shattering can subsist only insofar as what must shatter is urged into such Being-here. But the human being is urged into such Being-here, thrown into the urgency of such Being, because the overwhelming as such, in order to appear in its sway, requires the site of openness for itself. The essence of Being-human opens itself up to us only when it is understood on the basis of this urgency that is necessitated by Being itself. Historical humanity’s Being-here means: Being-posited as the breach into which the excessive violence of Being breaks in its appearing, so that this breach itself shatters against Being.

The deinon is the terrible in the sense of the overwhelming sway, which induces panicked fear, true anxiety, as well as collected, inwardly reverberating, reticent awe. The violent, the overwhelming is the essential character of the sway itself.  When the sway breaks in, it can keep its overwhelming power to itself. But this does not make it more harmless but only more terrible and distant. But on the other hand, deinon means the violent in the sense of one who needs to use violence—and does not just have violence at his disposal but is violence-doing, insofar as using violence is the basic trait not just of his doing but of his Dasein. Here we are giving the expression doing violence an essential sense that in principle reaches beyond the usual meaning of the expression, which generally means nothing but brutality and arbitrariness."

Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, University of Freiburg: 1935

 

 

 

"The experience of viewing paintings through glass is, of course, common for older works. The shift towards an emphasis on surface that characterized much avant-garde picture-making of the twentieth century, however, meant that the use of glass in framing became a rarity. In this context, Bacon’s insistence upon retaining it, despite employing complex facture in his own works, acts to call attention to it. The unusualness of seeing an avant-garde painting mounted behind glass makes the spectator aware of what is a relatively common but usually overlooked visual phenomenon. The presence of the glass means the viewer looks through their own reflection. This is encountered as a matter of fact when looking at Bacon’s work. The works are not static. The reflective glass renders them mutable. The exhibition space and its milling visitors appear on top of individual pictures, between beholder and image. The glass screens, it forms a motion picture. The ghostly reflections of spectators, fleeting apparitions, serve to foil vision as the eye chases them across the glass. Shifting presences must be seen through if the viewer is to appreciate the work. They must be filtered out  of conscious experience. The mirroring quality of the mounting produces a kind of disturbance in the field of vision. If the required act of filtration is not performed then the spectator must see their reflection in place of the work of art and thereby confront their act of seeing. The glass includes the beholder and the gallery space in the painting as a kind of interference or noise. It works to produce what can be described as a ‘making strange’ both of seeing and of the picture surface. In his essay ‘Art as Technique’, Victor Shklovsky wrote that the ‘technique of art is to make objects ‘‘unfamiliar’’, to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged’. Bacon could be said to cultivate just such an aesthetic, a teasing, perhaps even sadistic, one in which the pleasure of visual comprehension is, at least initially, deferred. The way Bacon’s paintings are framed does not detract from the pictorial surface for beholders but actually draws them to attend to it through the labour of divining what lies behind the darkling glass. The unruly reflections that thwart easy looking also constitute an assault on vision. The spectator is made to think about what it is to lose sight, to reflect on the invisible. "

Nicholas Chare, Upon the Scents of Paint: Bacon and Synaesthesia, Visual Culture in Britain, 20o9

 

 

 

"The first logical step away from the technicality of the glass pane brings one to the intentionality of the artist himself. Francis Bacon was notably famous for insisting that his artworks be exhibited behind glass panes. Reflection in this framework is usually regarded as mere ‘noise’, which in the mathematical communication model of Shannon and Weaver stands for “things [that] are added to the signal which were not intended by the information source” (Weaver, 1949: 7), and which further raises the question: “How can one minimize the undesirable effects of noise […]?”.  Despite the fact that Bacon explicitly rejects reflection as an intended effect of this practice and considers it further as an undesired and meaningless one, he advocates nonetheless the artistic function of the glass, as a device supporting the appearance of a unified canvas, and foremost as a device creating distance between the canvas and the viewer. His emphasis on the latter acquires a particularly aesthetic significance, resonating Walter Benjamin’s definition of the ‘aura’ of an (artistic or natural) object as “the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it [i.e. the object] may be” (1969: 222). Of course, the auratic character of the original, that Benjamin had in mind, far exceeds the idea of a literal device creating distance between the object and the viewer, and in the case of Bacon’s art the semblance of distance is basically to be rooted in his primary aesthetic endeavour. Nevertheless, the glass panes in the case examined here support substantially the phenomenology of the auratic effect, in concordance with the artist’s desire. The language of reflection thus comes in juxtaposition with the artistic language of depiction, each one of these suggesting a differentiated form of mediation and modelling of reality. This appears to be the ultimate elevation of reflectivity to a status higher than that of an organizing subsystem of the artistic text. What I attempted to analyze in this paper can be finally translated as the tripartite relationship between reality, reflection, and depiction, which takes place during the exhibitions of Francis Bacon in a visualized modality, thanks to the crucial device of the glass pane in front of the painting and the multiplicity of its functions. Reflectivity is the basic function that gives rise to this visual dialectics, since without it the field of the painting would remain occupied solely by “the painter’s brutal gesture” (Kundera, 1997: 8). The significance of this function can only be apprehended and further exploited if we include it in the useful abstraction of artistic unity that the text represents for the researcher, namely if we integrate it in our conceptualization of the artistic text of the painting. By doing so, a new textual field opens ahead, a more comprehensive one that encompasses all three factors of artistic communication – the author, the art institution and the audience- as each one of them manipulates differently the work of art; within this field, questions about the nature of representation itself acquire a distinctly aesthetic articulation."

Dimitris Chatzicharalampous, Reflectivity in Francis Bacon’s Exhibitions from a Textual-Semiotic Perspective, Southern Semiotic Review: Issue 5 (1) 2015

 

 

 

 

The Frame as a Community of Singularity

The Frame or The Plinth present the Community of the One as the Solitary Confinement of the Community of the Artist. Artworks are necessarily ‘anti-social’ and do not ‘mix-well’ with other artworks and more precisely prefer to be-all-on-their-own within their-own-world as a world-of-their-own which is why there is no ‘community art’ or no ‘communist art’ or no ‘socialist art’ for art belongs to no ‘society’ for art does not ‘socialise’ for art is not a part of ‘the community’ free from ‘all communities’ existing-exogenously orbiting-oblivious ostracized-outcasts ordained-outside of ‘human history’ thus not being conditioned by the ‘human condition’ of the ‘human community’  but being bejewelled-beheaded bereaved-weathered where-there-are-no-they-there where-there-are-no-them-there where-there-are-no-their-there so art-is with-no they-then-being-there so art-is with-no-them-then-being-there.

Paintings want protection. To be protected from the outside. Protected from the inside. Protected by being framed and glazed. Paintings by their being are private personas and so solitary and anti-social and do not like being placed next to other paintings. Paintings are always uncomfortable and nervous when placed next to other paintings even if they often appear to be sociable and get on. Paintings want frames for reasons of privacy. Paintings demand frames in order to show their truth. When the painting becomes the wall is becomes a painted wall and not a painting: abstract-painting is necessarily indistinguishable from the wall that is from the painted-wall from being the painted wall no longer being an artwork. Abstract painting is the desire to naturalise art to domesticate art to make art a part of 'domestic life' as inane 'interior decoration' for that is all abstract painting can ever be.

To remove the frames from particular paintings is to remove their truth. The frame functions as the truth in painting. For paintings by Velázquez, Rembrandt, Titian, Turner, Van Gogh, Manet, Sargent, Cézanne, Modigliani, Picasso, Jawlensky, Nolde, Soutine, and Bacon the frame is imperative, indeed, absolutely essential, and the choice of frame is an art in itself. The wrong frame can murder the painting and turn its truth into a lie. Framers: be warned. The frame initiates and instigates and installs further truth to the truth in painting by framing the truth on painting. The frame gives the painting its absolute freedom to be incarcerated outside of being-in-the-world for the painting is not of this world and knows nothing of being-in-the-world and need nothing of being-in-the-world because the da-painting is primordial-dasein and the frame institutes and constitutes the being-there-not-there of the painting and not forgetting also that the frame severs you from your dasein when you are looking into the painting being beheaded by the frame: the frame beheads you from your there where you then become one with the being of the painting being framed by the painting after being sutured by the frame. You resent the frame-there being-there because the frame-dasein de-frames (thus negates) your dasein. The framed-painting is the radical deconstruction of the being-human where the frame reveals the artificiality of the painting as the artificiality of the human where the frame ferments a being-art of the being-human as being-alien as absolutely-alien.

The truth in painting depends upon the truth of the frame that frames the truth and the truth in painting is being framed being in solitary confinement framed in the truth that is painting being framed. There is no truth in the painting of Hans Hofmann, Ellsworth Kelly, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko because they cannot be framed and would look absurd being-framed for framing their paintings would be as absurd as framing painted-walls and wall-paper since their paintings share exactly the same economy as painted-walls and wall-paper (even though painted-walls and wall-paper are often framed by skirting-boards which frames. bacon was correct to nominate abstract-painting as decoration even though this is still a profoundly unfashionable thing to say even today.  Francis Bacon perfectly understood the radical-alterity of the frame in the way that the frame enhances and elevates the painting removing it from the natural world as well as the world of  ‘the everyday life (whatever that means) and the community (whatever that means). The fashion for removing the frame from painting is an attempt to bring democracy and equality to painting by supposedly setting it free. To repeat: paintings being solitary are anti-democratic, un-equal and anti-social and do not like to mix with other paintings.

Abstract painting is the always already wall-of-the-wall before the ereignis of painting before the coming-into-view of the painting added to the wall and abstract painting being the wall before the event of painting remains just a wall painted a painted wall and so it would be senseless and meaningless to frame a wall that is to frame a painted wall: a Kelly or a Pollock or a Rothko would look absurd and out of place out of wall by being-framed: abstract painting is the negation of art and maybe necessarily so for abstract art is absolutely alien to art that is to being-art to the being of art for abstract painting is cosmological in its constellations-in-infinity that simply cannot be framed: abstract-painting is that which is always already outside of the frame without having a frame of reference and that is radical-alterity of abstract-painting: abstract-painting as the refusal of the frame is the refusal of the being of painting for abstract-painting is the negation of being because abstraction is that which is without being: one cannot be abstract. Being is not abstract, being is not abstraction: being is image. Bacon said to Gilder: To tell you the truth, no abstract painting has ever given me the exhilaration of figurative painting. In fact, it bores me. Profoundly When I first heard of Rothko, I thought, well, here is going to be somebody doing the most marvelous things, like Turner, in abstraction. But the problem with all of abstract expressionism comes from lack of subject. I think that no matter how far you deviate from it, you need the discipline of the subject. You need the pulsation of the image, the force of the image, to go beyond decoration. Which Rothko didn’t have. It was always a beautiful decoration. (Francis Bacon to Joshua Gilda, Flash Art, May, 1983).

Bacon was right about Rothko and Pollock yet Sylvester stated: “I said to Bacon when he put down Abstract Expressionism, so why do you think it moves me? And he said, ‘oh, you’re too subject to fashion’, or something like that. Well, I didn’t argue with him, and I didn’t argue with him about his idiotic opinions about Pollock. You’re not there to argue with the interviewee, but you are there to probe.. (The art of the interview, Tate, Issue 26/Autumn 2001).(Classical Music is not at all abstract or imageless as Classical Music is being-for-itself having the subject and thus having the image and is thus ‘identifiable’ as living-image as living-subject as living-being as a being-music.)

Abstract painting is profoundly petty-bourgeois with its home-interior background-decoration mural-muzac of soporific-sensations. Bacon detested the decorative homely atmosphere of abstract-painting and said to Sylvester: “I want to isolate the image and take it away from the interior of the home”. Abstract painting is cynically used as sedative background-decoration in bank-lobbies to comfort (and conceal) the violence of financial terrorism. Abstract-painting is a tranquilizer for the forgetting of being-human, being alive: abstract-painting has no tension or vibration of being for it lacks the being of the image since there is nothing-there and yet that is why abstract-painting has such an alluring appeal under consumer-capitalism: there is no threat of being, not even a trace of being. Bacon said to Sylvester: I believe that art is recording. I think it’s reporting. And I think that in abstract art, as there’s no report, there’s nothing other than the aesthetic of the painter and his few sensations. There’s never any tension in it. I think it can convey very watered-down lyrical feelings, because I think any shapes can. But I don’t think it can really convey feeling in the grand sense. What Bacon says is absolutely true though this is not a fashionable thing to say and Sylvester like so many uncritical contemporary art critics followed the fashion of following abstract painting where intellect informs them and not instinct and the very nomination of an ‘art critic’ is an intellectual who writes about art (even though that is an impossible thing to do: this is why the ‘art critic’ does not actually exist and which is why there cannot be such a discourse as ‘art criticism’ (or ‘art writing’ ). Coward Sylvester was a slave to fashion and went along with the fashions of his day; brave Bacon did not.

The essence of the economy of the frame is the pull-push play of the frame as patently played out played in-on-out-of the fort-da-frame that frames-as-it-throws as it were and throws as it frames for the frame forges a frisson of nervous anxious tension as a dice of difference decapitating the painting from the presence the painting for the frame removes both the viewer from the painting and the painting from the frame as well as from the frame of the viewer who is unconsciously framing the painting within and without of the framed-painting. Thus the frame and glass cause you an alien anxiety and a dasein dread for they exclude you turning you away whilst also inviting you in.

To remove the frame is to remove the play of difference and distance of the painting that cannot exist without a frame being there: the frame gives the painting the dasein that it cannot have for painting is the refusal of dasein for the painting is its own da-sein without the dasein of the world. The frame as fort-da fort-throws the painting-ahead away from you only to ricochet returning the painting back toward you for the painting is thrown-ahead of you in order to be returned to you thrown at you away from you coming back to get you. Only by going too far can one get near so to throw the painting is to retrieve the painting and the frame is the thrower and the retriever of the painting as a dice-dasein.

Far from being a form of conserving concealing-containment the frame frees the form from the frame out-in itself where the frame is being-in-itself allowing the painting to be being-for-itself and as the supplement surplus the frame throws the painting in an infinite fort-da free-play: the frame gives the painting its infinity. The frame is the crypt which takes in and incorporates the being of the painting: the frame-crypt caresses the carcase of the painting keeping it infinitely fresh and succulently served: the frame keeps the painting fresh and free from contamination free from other paintings that may not be framed: the frame keeps the painting free from diseases.

The frame does not mark a limit but ignites infinity and activates the artingness of art as artificially-real as the rolling reel removal from the real. The frame makes a difference marks a difference makes a différance marks a  différance in setting and severing the sensation the metaphysical mooding of the abjected-abimage: the frame is not a frame that frames but a flame that inflames inflaming the image igniting the image initiating the image letting the image be in-it-self out-it-self as an interstice inheritance. The frame deconstructs the Enframing of the sutured space of the art gallery which is a Frame of Containment: the frame decapitates deranged Political Correctness. The frame severs the face from the space of the subject: the frame radically removes the Face from the Head. The frame fuels the face the frame frees the face from the space of the subject frame decapitates dasein by beheading the head of the severed subject from being there to being thrown over there as an absent abjected alienality. The frame beheads the head: the frame beheads you from your body from your frame.

The frame for Bacon is Blanchot’s entretien: that which severs sutures: separating by joining the out-of-joint alternating altarity between being-attained and being-abjected and so here the frame holds the head together apart decapitating dasein severing the subject form the abject. The frame is the between [entre-deux] delivering distance joining jouissance abjected-apart for the fort-da-frame is dasien-différance disseminating-dasein in framing the fermenting-presence of an infinite-immediate image as an absence of a nearness of a farness as a closeness of a distance as near-by far-off the the frame is the infinite-interval in between Being and being by becoming the Unifying union of an Original origin delivering différance by diverting Dasein thus the removing the frame is the forgetting and negation of art différance as the economy of the frame is différance par excellence activating art.

Thus the Frame literally makes a difference as a radical différance severing the framed-spectator from the space-frame of the abimage: the fort-da-frame throws the framed-spectator out-of-frame-with-being-there: by removing the frame one unifies the spectator-subject with space of sameness that surrounds the framed-spectator so then there is no difference between the abimage and the spectator-frame thus the removing of the frame is a conservative act reducing art to ‘decoration’ and ‘democracy’ and art is the arch-enemy of ‘decoration’ and ‘democracy’: art cannot be elected. The fort-da-frame also activates and attunes the metre and the moment and the mood of the paint-being thrown-there: the thrown-frame flames-enflames enframes as it ignites-images ahead a head alive: the frame brings presence to the absence there: the frame is the dasein of the painting that cannot be there. The dasein-frame makes the impossible painting possible. But ‘politically correct’  curators and critics want to ‘democratise’ art for ‘the community’ by removing the frame which is seen as being ‘elitist’ and ‘hierarchal’ as set-apart above ‘the masses’ . The ‘politically correct’ curator has bourgeois-guilt and bourgeois-shame about the frame for the frozen frisson of the frame ferments an acute anxiety for the ‘politically correct’ curator.

The ‘politically correct’ curator does not know that the painting or the sculpture are actually alive always already assuming painting and sculpture to be merely a representation. So the removing of the glass and the frame are done without consulting the painting or consulting the sculpture which is an act of acute violence directly akin to skinning someone alive: thus it is imperative that you now watch someone filmed being skinned alive as available on the internet in order for you to truly understand the extreme pain and agony that the painting or the sculpture feel when their glass, frame, plinth are skinned from their body alive: painting and sculpture are ontological: they live.  However, art-works are, of necessity, by necessity, always already, above the human-being which is, after-all, and before-all, what makes them art-works to begin with and to end with as it were, as it was, as it is.

The frame ferments the enigmaticalness of the painting and the frame refuses the subject entrance and engagement into the painting keeping the painting private property and not public property and paradoxically this is not reactionary but radical for the artwork is a protest against they They being able to do art as against the democracy of art against the idiotic idea so fashionable today that ‘anyone can do art’ that ‘anyone can be an artists’ for art is the refusal of the everyone can: to say that anyone can be an artist is as absurd as saying that anyone can be a conductor: the fact remains: there are very few artists and conductors that actually exist and yet we live in a ‘dumbed-down’ cretin-creed capitalist-culture where ‘they say’ that anyone can be an artist, where ‘they say’ that anyone can be a conductor: any-one means no-one.

The Abstrakter Kopf of Jawlensky and Study Head of Bacon share the same sensation of spirit and this spirit-sensation needs the frame to ignite and initiate its being-spirit severed from being-body that is being-flesh for both Abstrakter Kopf of Jawlesnky and Study Head of Bacon are stripped of the skin of being-flesh. The late self-portraits of Bacon are ghostly and so spiritual being-fleshless being-meatless where we are no longer just being-meat. One is reminded that was is remaindered in the late self-portraits of Bacon is flesh-made-spirit where we sensation spirit there where the flash has long since frizzled out and faded away where what is left-over is being-spirit.

The frame frees the form from the ground whilst grounding the form since the frame severs the form from the body of the world as the head from the body where the beheaded head is the freed form for the frame frees the form from the body of the ground that is the body of the world where frame frees the head from the body where the frame is the neck that is that being-in-between of the head and the body thus to frame is to free a head from a body. The frame enhances the painting and the frame completes the painting which is why framing is an art in itself for the wrong frame can wound a painting can ruin a painting can kill a painting. Which frame is the most important question for the life of the painting as framing both the mood and moment of the painting: the frame sets the scene like a film director ‘frames a shot’. To remove the frame is to negate art. Art is the always already framed: Art is framing.

 

 

 

 

                                                    Understanding Bacon

 

 

                                                                                                                                                         

                                                                                                                                                                                  Francis Bacon caught laughing by Daniel Farson

 

 

 

 

A story? No. No stories, never again.

Maurice Blanchot, The Madness of the Day, 1981

 

 

 

I’ve made images that intellect would never make.

Francis Bacon, The South Bank Show, 1985

 

 

 

Ive no story to tell. If you can talk about it, why paint it?

Francis Bacon, Unnerving Art, New York Times Magazine, August 20, 1989

 

 

 

I just paint. I paint out of instinct. That’s all. If I stop to wonder why I paint, I say I paint out of instinct.”

Francis Bacon, Bacon’s Instinct, David Plante, The New Yorker, November 1, 1993

 

 

 

 

You know how difficult it is to say anything about painting — you feel the images themselves. Well somehow thats all there is to say.

Francis Bacon, Carcasses and crucifixes, The Times, Monday May 20, 1985

 

 

 

 

I am trying to work as close to my own nervous system as I can, but my painting is not illustrative and has no message; it is an image. If I wanted to express philosophy I would write – use words, not paint.

Francis Bacon, The Images of a Master, by Shusha Guppy, Telegraph Sunday Magazine, November 4th, 1984

 

 

 

Years later, in April 1974, Bacon would say to Dicky Chopping about the anguish of existence, Words have no meaning, sometimes a howl has more meaning . . . the only solution is your own dissolution. ... .

Jon Lys Turner, The Visitors' Book - In Francis Bacon’s Shadow: The Lives of Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller, Constable: 2016

 

 

 

Most of the time when one talks about painting, one says nothing interesting. Its always rather superficial. What can one say? Basically, I believe that you simply cannot talk about painting, it just isnt possible.

Francis Bacon, Interviews with Francis Bacon 1962-1979; David Sylvester, Thames & Hudson: 1980

 

 

 

I once heard this loud voice coming from behind a Damien Hirst installation proclaiming: Do you call that art? I was expecting the see a sergeant-major wearing a monocle with a copy of The Daily Telegraph tucked under his arm. Then suddenly he appeared and I saw it was Francis Bacon.

Mark Cousins in conversation with Alexander Verney-Elliott, London, 2018

 

 

 

Ugly? It’s all a matter of perception. I would never use the word ‘ugly’. When I first saw a Bacon painting, I thought it the most interesting thing I’d ever seen. Among all the ‘pretty’ art, I could hardly wait to see more. I can hardly wait for his paintings to get here. I could sit and look at them forever.

Hugh Davies, Conversion of a Skeptic; Virginia Butterfield, San Diego Magazine, February, 1999

 

 

 

Ive always hoped to put over things as directly and rawly as I possibly can, and perhaps, if a thing comes across directly, they feel that that is horrific. Because, even if you say something very directly to somebody, about something, theyre sometimes offended, although it is a fact. Because people tend to be offended by facts, or what used to be called truth.

 Francis Bacon, Francis Bacon: Fragments of a Portrait, BBC1, 18 September, 1966

 

 

 

Very few people like poetry or painting; they really want a story. I dont like stories; Im not a narrative painter. Painting is a language on its own; it is very difficult to translate into words. I wouldn’t have anything to say. I want to convey reality without illustrating. In the sea inside one, everything is filtered in the unconscious and images surface — I’m very delighted when they do.

Francis Bacon, Talking to Francis; Alistair Hicks, The Spectator, 25 May, 1985

 

 

 

Francis Bacon was the first intelligent painter I met who dismissed a lot of abstract art. He quoted Giacometti, who used to say a lot of abstraction was ‘the art of the handkerchief — ‘C’est l’art du mouchoir — covered in stains and dribbles . . . I was rather impressed that Francis had the confidence to say that kind of thing at that time. Loads of people would have howled him down.

David Hockney, A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney, Martin Gayford, Thames & Hudson: 2011

 

 

 

I have fairly conservative tastes. I love eighteenth-century French painting, Watteau and Chardin especially. Among contemporary artists I like abstract painting a lot–Robert Mangold, Sean Scully, David Reed. Who can actually love Duchamp’s work? What I hate is being manipulated. I hate Francis Bacon for that reason. But I forgive Norman Rockwell, since I am given to sentimentality.

Arthur Danto, The Philosophy of Art; The Nation, August 18, 2005

 

 

 

Man always craves some monstrous object. And his life has no meaning unless he devotes himself entirely to its pursuit. Often, he needs no fanfare of any kind. He appears to be tucked away, quietly cultivating his garden; but, inwardly, he cast off long ago on the perilous voyage of his dreams. No one knows hes gone. For that matter, he looks like he’s still here. But he’s far away; he haunts forbidden seas.

Jean Giono, Melville: A Novel, 1941

 

 

 

“Of course I suffer. Who doesn’t? But I don’t feel I’ve become a better artist because of my suffering but because of my willpower and the way I worked on myself. In a sense I could say that I painted my own life ... but only in a sense. Very few people have a natural feeling for painting, and so they naturally think that it is an expression of the artist’s mood. But often he may be in greatest despair and painting his happiest paintings.”

Francis Bacon, Francis Bacon: A Night’s Journey and a Day, John Gruen, Vogue, 15 October 1971

 

 

 

If you go into one of those big butchers shops, especially Harrods — it is not to do with mortality like lots of people think, but its to do with the colour of the meat. The colour of meat is so powerful, so beautiful really. People ask me why my pictures have this feeling of rawness and mortality. If you think of a nude, if you think of anything going on around you, think how raw it all is. How can you make anything more raw than that?

Francis Bacon, Carcasses and crucifixes, The Times, Monday May 20, 1985

 

 

 

When people like Frank say it isnt chance or accident or whatever you want to call, in a way I know what they mean. And yet I don’t know what they mean because I dont think one can explain it It would be like trying to explain the unconscious. Its also always hopeless talking about painting — one never does anything but talk around it — because, if you could explain your painting, you would be explaining your instincts.

Francis Bacon, Interviews with Francis Bacon 1962-1979; David Sylvester, Thames & Hudson: 1980

 

 

 

I think that Bacon was a mannerist in the sense that his way of doing things was more important than the subject itself. The easiest evidence of that is when he used to load his brush with white paint and flick it at a picture which was nearing completion. This stream of white paint tells us absolutely nothing. However, there are aspects of his work which are very beautiful in terms of subtlety of handling and modelling, for example.

Brian Sewell; Naim Attallah, Dialogues, Quartet Books: 2000

 

 

 


I don’t know how much it’s a question of sensation about the other person. It’s the sensations within yourself. It’s to do with the shock of two completely unillustrational things which come together and make an appearance. But again it’s all words, it’s all an approximation. I feel talking about painting is always superficial. We have lost our real directness. We talk in such a dreary, bourgeois kind of way. Nothing is ever directly said.

Francis Bacon, An Interview with Francis Bacon–Provoking Accidents, Prompting Chance, Michael Peppiatt, Art International, Autumn 1989

 

 

 

 Lets make clear, as it were, whos on the couch and whos behind the couch in ones relation to the painting. It is vital to recognize that it is not we – qua analyst – who are there to analyse the painting – if my argument is going to be sustained – it is to the function of the painting to analyse us. You might say: how can a painting speak? – Well actually of course, its almost true that a real analyst cant speak. – We are its patient. It is there to interpret us.

Mark Cousins, Architectural Association, Lecture, 1 February, 2002

 

 

 

“I just finished this essay on Bacon, in which I was writing about his paintings, and I was saying, you know, the question is not, What did Bacon mean? The question is, What do the paintings say? Who cares what Bacon meant? He probably didn’t even know himself. So you have to stand in front of these paintings and look at what they say, what’s there in the paint. And I think with my book it’s the same thing. It’s there and you can read it any way you want.”

Jonathan Littell, Inside a ‘perverted fairyland’, Arts, The Globe & Mail, Monday, May 1st, 2009

 

 

 


When one talks about paintings, its all nonsense. It has its language and anything else is a bad translation. I do feel the need to paint. I paint for the excitement which comes when the image comes across but I also hope luck will work with me in paint. I have always painted to excite myself. For me images are ways of unlocking the valves of sensation. It is when you stop fumbling around and the images crystallises or when you realise you can take it further.

Francis Bacon, Bacon’s art gets the red-carpet treatmentThe Sunday Times, 25th September 1988

 

 

 

Henrietta left for Spain yesterday. She and darling little Sophie were here last week for lunch and who should turn up but Denis Wirth Miller also. He had had yet another scene with Francis Bacon, who fired some home truths at him (tactless, insensitive, lazy). Of Bacon’s new boyfriend, a burglar, he said: Hes very good at cracking safes and thats a creative activity. I didn’t take his up at the moment but it has been rolling unpalatably round my head like a marble.

Frances Partridge, June, 1962; Diaries 1939-1972, Phoenix Press: 2001

 

 

 

FRANCIS BACON is unquestionably the most celebrated and the most prestigious of British painters. An exhibition of his work anywhere in the world is always a major artistic event. He returns obsessively not so much to certain themes as to certain emotions—horror, anxiety, fear. What emerges from Bacons late paintings is a contempt for the audience which is also, perhaps, the painters contempt for himself. Can art as great as Bacon’s is supposed to be, base itself upon a sneer?

Edward Lucie-Smith, Bacon’s contempt, London Art Review, Evening Standard, Thursday January 5, 1978

 

 

 

Horrifying, terrifying, shocking, nauseating, grisly, menacing, brutal, cruel, squalid, ugly, nightmarish, disgusting, hellish, sado-masochistic, amoral, blood-chilling, horrible. This is not, as you might imagine, a selection from Roget’s Thesaurus headed ‘Unpleasurableness’ or ‘Fear.’ Nor is it a quotation from a publicity handout for the latest horror film. It is simply a list of some of the adjectives used by art critics in praise of Francis Bacon’s big retrospective exhibition now at the Tate.

Robert Wraight, Mirror of his age; Francis Bacon Tate Gallery, The Tatler, Wednesday 13, June 1962

 

 

 

To some Mr. Francis Bacon is a highly gifted artist who misuses his talent in deliberate mystification and by his choice of preposterous, horrifying, and often repellent subjects. To others his view of the world as a place of obscure torments and inexplicable alarms is as original and interesting as one of Kafkas inventions; it maybe impossible to interpret his pictures with precision but each new glimpse of savagery or suffering, though seen only through a veil, has the effect of a disquieting truth.

Alan Clutton-Brock, Round the London Galleries, The Listener, Volume 57, Issue 1461, March 28, 1957

 

 

 

“Whenever convictions are not arrived at by direct contact with the world and the objects themselves, but indirectly through a critique of the opinions of others, the processes of thinking are impregnated with ressentiment. The establishment of criteria for testing the correctness of opinions then becomes the most important task. Genuine and fruitful criticism judges all opinions with reference to the object itself. Ressentiment criticism, on the contrary, accepts no object that has not stood the test of criticism.”

Max Scheler, Ressentiment, 19121915

 

 

 


The dynamics of a Bacon painting are formulated by means of an unerring instinct for the right pictorial thrust and gesture. The uniqueness of his style is based on a vision that concerns itself with precise yet never photographic observation. It is a deeper form of reality, as actually felt as it is observed. The terror it may engender is merely a by-product of a clarity filtered through intuitions that unwittingly unmask the cores of fear—exposed nerve-endings residing just beneath the skin. The results are invariably disquieting.

John Gruen, Francis Bacon: A Night’s Journey and a Day, Vogue, London, 15 October, 1971

 

      

 

Saw Francis Bacon’s paintings at Tate. The paintings make horrifying statements with very great force. They are by an observer so profoundly affected by the kind of life he observes that, although protesting, they seem corrupted by the corruption. After Bacon most other contemporary painting seems decoration, doodling, aestheticism, or stupidity. His work extremely devoid of pleasure. Perhaps this is due to the life of disillusionment he leads, which he faces in its implications; perhaps it is the old English puritanism and dislike of pleasure cropping up again.

Stephen Spender, 23 May 1962, London; New Selected Journals 1939—1995; Faber & Faber: 2012

 

 

 

The painter’s vision is not a view upon the outside, a merely ‘physical-optical relation’ with the world. The world no longer stands before him, through representation; rather it is the painter to whom the things of the world give birth by a sort of concentration or coming-to-itself of the visible. Ultimately painting relates to nothing at all among experienced things unless it is first of all ‘autofigurative’. It is a spectacle of something only by being a ‘spectacle of nothing’, by breaking the ‘skin of things’ to show how the things become things, how the world becomes a world.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Eye & Mind; The Primacy of Perception, Northwest University Press, 1964

 

 

 

Does not the function of art lie in not understanding? Does not obscurity provide it with its very element and a completion sui generis, foreign to dialectics and the life of ideas? Will we then say that the artist knows and expresses the very obscurity of the real? Does not the commerce with the obscure, as a totally independent ontological event, describe categories irreducible to those of cognition? We should like to show this event in art. Art does not know a particular type of reality; it contrasts with knowledge. It is the very event of obscuring, a descent of the night, an invasion of shadow.

Emmanuel Levinas, Reality & Its Shadow, Les Temps Modernes 38, 1948

 

 

 

Bacon and his defenders spend a good deal of their time in print warning against the dangers of taking his paintings too literally. Yet such is the brutal directness of such images that it is, I suggest, well nigh impossible not to take them literally. Unless that is the audience enters into some sort of pact of intellectual dishonesty with the painter and pretends not to recognise what it sees. It is just as preposterous to claim as some observers claim (with their eyes closed you feel, and their fingers crossed) that their is nothing ‘horrific’ about these images, that they are images of beauty, and that Bacons primary considerations are formal.

Waldemar Januszczak, Behind the brutality of Bacon, The Guardian, Wednesday, May 22, 1985

 

 

 

The thing is one can’t really talk about painting, only around it. After all if you could explain it why would you bother to do it? You always hope that the paint will do more for you, but mostly its like painting a wall when the very first brushstroke you do gives a sudden shock of reality that is cancelled out as you paint the whole surface. What one longs to do above all, I think, is to reinvent appearance, make it stranger, and more exciting. What one wants in art nowadays is a shorthand where the sensation comes across right away. All painting, well all art, is about sensation. Or at least it should be. After all, life itself is about sensation.

Francis Bacon, Francis Bacon — In Your Blood — A Memoir,  Michael Peppiatt, Bloomsbury Circus: 2015

 

 

 

The late Ken Russell is undoubtedly one of the most ambitious and visionary filmmakers in the entirety of cinema. Excessive and flamboyant, he was often dismissed by mainstream critics. Russell was equally criticized in avant-garde circles for not having the courage of his convictions (meaning he wasn’t academically non-linear enough. There’s a reason Russell is often compared to the painter Francis Bacon, who continued painting surreal figurative works in the age of academic abstract expressionism). Admirably, Russell had no use for categorizations, but as idiosyncratic as he was, his execution did not always rise to the concepts in his work.

Alfred Eaker, Director Retrospective; Ken Russell, Thursday, 28 April, 2016

 

 

 

“The doubtfulness of art, which modernism has discovered, will always be countered by transcendental doubt of this doubt, and so long as this itself is countered by a recognition that it leads beyond art, then art’s role in freedom, in the refusal of reconciliation with the self-evident naturalness of the given world, the status quo, becomes clear. Art first gives the freedom to be conscious of what is usually taken unconsciously; art first gives the freedom to make unfamiliar what is usually taken familiarly. As such, the uncertainty of its ground is a necessity of this freedom; its unclarity about its intentions will always permit it to project itself beyond the permissibly given.”

Donald B. Kuspit, A Phenomenological Approach To Artistic Intention, Art Forum, No. 5, Volume 12, January 1974

 

 

 

 

Bacon had a poor opinion of people’s understanding of painting, and no patience at all with the habitual endeavour to ‘see’ meaning instead of seeing the aesthetics of the paint itself. How wonderfully right he was. Bacon transcends realism, but not appearance, and not the factual reality. This remains absolutely central, and is the reason Bacon eschewed abstraction in art. volume. He is not a painter to be ‘enjoyed’ in the conventional sense. His canvases overwhelm. No book can present in any adequate way the aggressive nature of his vision, the scale of his work, the sheer power of the paint, the visceral sense of human life which is combined with a perverse but very real humanity.

Bruce Arnold, Bringing home the Bacon, The Irish Independent, Saturday 3 June, 2000

 

 

 

Some critics have objected that Bacon fails in terms of tragic catharsis, but I am never happy about the application of that term in paintings, the act of participation is so different. For me Bacons paintings are not wilfully destructive, not merely morbid, and rarely in the bad sense sensational. They seem rather to supply a visual identity for certain phases of consciousness, and once a thing is identified, ones hope of perhaps not exorcising it, but of exercising it, of coping with it, is enhanced, and with that the scope of life is enhanced. Bacon, though perhaps willy-nilly as far as he is concerned, is one of the major prophets in paint of our time, as richly eloquent in his imagery as any prophet of the Old Testament.

David Piper, Painting of the Month Francis Bacon’s Figure in a Landscape, The Listener, Volume 72, Number 1837, Thursday June 11, 1964

 

 

 

I have never made concessions. Not to fashion, not to constraints, not to anything. Ive been lucky enough not to have to, but its in my character to refuse social life, obligations, and to prefer simple people to sophisticated people. And luck has had it that I Haven’t needed to compromise myself in any way. Perhaps, since I havent been to school like other people, I have invented my own rules which please me and which above all are more suited to me. And we always talk rubbish in the small world of art. I think David Sylvester is a very intelligent man, but I don’t think he has a genuine feel for painting because in the book he wrote with me he mentioned all sorts of frightful people, all these painters whom he loved and admired. I think he has no critical sense.

Francis Bacon, The Last Interview, Francis Giacobetti: 1991-1992

 

 

 

Bacon’s true genius was realizing through an expression of jouissance the fundamentals of what would later grow into postmodern ironies. He thrust this idea of jouissance against the physicality of flesh, reducing us all to meat, and translating the ecstatic moment—sensation, into a visual expression or the literal and metaphorical violence of confronting the awareness of our own mortality. He expressed with paint how human violence had reached an apex that nullified its significance and left the only alternative an embrace of jouissance. Bacon never one to deny his connections to the sensations of the Real, fully embraced them instead. Unlike the postmodernism that grew out Warhol’s silkscreened, star-fucking irony, Bacon’s postmodernism grew out of a full acceptance of decadence.

Erik Odin Cathcart, The Brutality of Denial—Francis Bacon & Postmodernism, Imagine Zero—Contemporary Art in Context, 2011

 

 

 

Theres nobody Id rather be with than that man. Not only does he have a very original intelligence about art but also has an almost Shakespearian way of expressing himself. Since he died, Ive not thought about him as a painter. Ive only thought about the qualities which have long made me feel he was probably the greatest man Ive known, and certainly the grandest: His honesty with himself and about himself; his enthusiasm; his constant sense of the tragic and the comic; his appetite for pleasure; his fastidiousness; his generosity, not only with money  that was easy  but with his time; above all, I think, his courage. He had faults which could be maddening, such as being waspish and bigoted and fairly disloyal, as well as indiscreet. But he was also kind and forgiving and unspoiled by success and never rude unintentionally.

David Sylvester to Paula Weideger on Francis Bacon, Preaching art, The Independent, Monday May 11, 1992

 

 

 

Bacons creativity is inextricably tied to the legend of the artists charisma and colourful, bohemian existence. Several recent biographies emphasize his exposure to an unremittingly violent and traumatic period of world history; his overt masochistic homosexuality; a turbulent love life; and addictions to drinking and casino gambling. Yet, as with Picasso, the challenge is to grasp the pictorial intensity and existential force of Bacons achievement, rather than reducing it to mere autobiographical illustration. However, fame and familiarity do not necessarily make works of art more accessible. With Bacon, more perhaps than other major artists, the frequently repetitious commentary by critics and the rehashed quotes from interviews with the artist can inhibit viewers from immersing in their own visual sensations and imaginative responses.

Martin Hammer, Francis Bacon, Phaidon Press: 2013

 

 

 

Ressentiment is a self-poisoning of the mind which has quite definite causes and consequences. It is a lasting mental attitude, caused by the systematic repression of certain emotions and affects which, as such, are normal components of human nature. Their repression leads to the constant tendency to indulge in certain kinds of value delusions and corresponding value judgments. The emotions and affects primarily concerned are revenge, hatred, malice, envy, the impulse to detract, and spite. Thirst for revenge is the most important source of ressentiment. To its very core, the mind of ressentiment man is filled with envy, the impulse to detract, malice, and secret vindictiveness. It is peculiar to ‘ressentiment criticism’ that it does not seriously desire that its demands be fulfilled. It does not want to cure the evil: the evil is merely a pretext for the criticism.

Max Scheler, Ressentiment, 19121915

 

 

 

For me, realism is an attempt to capture the appearance with the cluster of sensations that the appearance arouses in me. As for my latest triptych and a few other canvases painted after I re-read Aeschylus, I tried to create images of the sensations that some of the episodes created inside me. I could not paint Agamemnon, Clytemnestra or Cassandra, as that would have been merely another kind of historical painting when all is said and done. Therefore, I tried to create an image of the effect that was produced inside me. Perhaps realism is always subjective when it is most profoundly expressed. When I look at grass, sometimes I feel like pulling out a clump and transplanting it inside a frame, but of course that would not “work”, and we are rightly forced to invent methods by which reality can force itself upon our nervous system in a new way, yet without losing sight of the model’s objectivity.

Francis Bacon, Letter to Michel Leiris, 20th November 1981

 

 

 

The only stab of pain I have had to endure was that of writing a review of Andrew Sinclair’s biography of Francis Bacon. Harder than you might think. It certainly wasn’t made easier by the fact that Bacon and I were friends. I found myself wanting to knock him a bit since biographers lean overboard the other way. A genius maybe, but a clown in champagne with phrases like, ‘Life is but a short interval between birth and death,’ uttered at five-minute intervals on occasions. Of course, one of the first things I looked at in Sinclair’s book was the index. I get three mentions and one of them refers to me as having been an ‘elegant scrounger’. Oh, he shoved the odd £50 note in my pocket at times but I never asked for it and I don’t know where he got the idea from that I was elegant. What is missed and will be again and again by future biographers is the fact that Francis liked very few people indeed. And why should he have done? Most of us are arseholes.

Jeffrey Bernard, Invalidity benefits, Low Life; The Spectator, Saturday, 11 September, 1993

 

 

 

A stylised nihilism pervades the culture, but when it becomes an unthinking reflex, nihilism ceases to be cathartic. There is a world of difference between Francis Bacons savage assault on meaning and the cool detachment that is expressed in HarveyMyra. Bacons paintings derive their energy partly from a sense of loss, but it is just that which is absent when nihilism becomes a commodity manufactured and marketed by the culture industry. A mixture of affectless violence with the ephemera of fashion and advertising has created the most successful brand in recent British art, but it is not a formula that can be sustained for long. The lightly subversive juxtaposition of images works only against a background that is heavy with meaning. Nihilist art requires a world in which traces of significance can still be found, but its effect is to wear away the few that remain. The end-point is an aesthetic of emptiness, in which everything is recorded and nothing felt.

John Gray, Icons of evil, Culture; New Statesman, Monday, 2 February 2004

 

 

 

... Bacons painting challenges verbal explanation and, at the artists request, we have not provided the customary notes on each picture, explains Alan Bowness in his forward to the Bacon catalogue. Later, in Andrew Durham’s essay on Bacons technique, Lucian Freud is quoted as saying that he thought Baconurgency in painting had to do with the fact that paint was was his only means  of expression. And yet Bacons highly articulate responses to David Sylvesters questions must represent the most thorough explanation of his work by any artist in art history. This merely compounds the reviewers difficulty. Of course, Bacons whole art is one of literal disruption, of evading description now that the camera has made description redundant. Its subject is transience, its method reactionary, its desired result a succession of visual shocks that short-circuit the intellect. Ive made images that the intellect would never make, he said in his South Bank Show interview with Melvyn Bragg.

John McEwen, Francis Bacon—New transmutations of an autumn rose, Studio International, Volume 198, Number 1010, 1985

 

 

 

From beyond the grave Francis Bacon has launched an astonishing attack on the late David Sylvester, considered by many to have been Britains greatest post-war critic and curator of modern art. In a hitherto unpublished interview given to the photographer Francis Giacobetti only two months before he died, the painter said of Sylvester: I dont think he has a genuine feeling for painting because in the book he wrote with me he mentioned all sorts of frightful people, all these painters whom he loved and admired. I think he has no critical sense. The comments in the interview, reproduced in The Art Newspaper, are all the more surprising given that the two were friends, and the artist was the subject of Sylvesters last book, Looking Back at Bacon. But it seems that the public amity concealed Bacons low opinion of the critic. James Birch, a friend of Bacon, confirms this view. Francis thought that he had no taste, Birch tells me. He often said that Sylvester had no idea about art at all.

Sholto Byrnes, Even friends aren’t safe from the Bacon slicer, The Independent, Thursday, June 12, 2003

 

 

 

My confidence is only up to my ankles — in every department, work, violin, driving my Mini. I drove it to the Tate to see the Francis Bacons this afternoon. Well — they are very impressive of course. Night thoughts were about Art and Beauty. The second of these seemed irrelevant at the Bacons.  ‘How ever did we come to value art?’ I asked myself, beginning to unpick and go right back to the start, then taking up the threads again when I woke in the small hours.  ‘Biological bait were the words that came into my mind, or they may have been there before, certainly the notions they represent have: that we call ‘beauty’ what attracts us to get our biological ends — the ripe red of a strawberry, the bloom of a young skin — but that art consists in cultivating these attractions for heir own sake, just as skating may have begun as a  means of crossing  a river, but from the pleasure in their skill people worked out a means of artfully cutting figures on the ice. But where, in all this, does such impressive ugliness as that of the Bacons come in?

Frances Partridge, June, 1962; Diaries 1939-1972, Phoenix Press: 2001

 

 

 

It would be both unwise and unjust to write briefly about the retrospective exhibition of work by Francis Bacon at the Tate Gallery. Of course one thought one knew what to expect, and after a few minutes spent hastily surveying the five speciously hung  rooms, ones expectations were confirmed. The impact is immediately shattering and becomes more so as one follows the roughly chronological sequence from 1944 (when, after a hiatus of seven years, he resumed painting) to the present day. The usual adjectives — ‘nightmarish,’  ‘melodramatic,’ ‘cruel,’  ‘haunting,’  — are not inappropriate but they are only superficially true and as descriptions of the cumulative effect of the exhibition. After the first few minutes has been expanded to half an hour, they become inadequate. Buried under the surface levels of these often horrific and sometimes repellent images are deeper levels, equally disturbing but more worth analysing, and not until one can come to grips with them does the exhibition become serious and cease to be merely sensational.

Eric Newton, MORTAL CONFLICT, The Guardian, Thursday, May 24, 1962

 

 

 

Only when you can encounter a certain emptiness in yourself could you ever think. Kant says the subject must approach the art object empty. It’s not just empty — I don’t even have a good reason to be here. Only I end up looking at this work and I don’t know what’s happening and because I don’t know what’s happening I’ve lost any authority to speak about the object — I have reached a point — and our point here is to say this is not a loss but this is productive: I have reached the point of incomprehension. No longer do I have some capricious remark to say about why I like this painting. It is that I am here and I am flooded with the fantasy that I am less than nothing here. I don’t understand. You cannot have an aesthetic experience of an object unless and until you reach the point of incomprehension. Every time you are tempted to grasp the object through your understanding instead of being a triumph it should be a defeat. Art belongs to the domain of the death drive. Because we never have our own vision we remain entirely indebted and damaged and damaged by others.

Mark Cousins, Damage, Architectural Association, October, 1996

 

 

 

At some point Francis Bacon was bound to turn up. When he did, every-one jumped up and started hanging around him because he was enormously famous, even then. My feeling about him drinking is a bit odd, because he certainly was drunk some of the time. But he mainly got other people pissed. I think he liked seeing people falling apart. Though by the morning, I’d see him hanging on the bandstand. He had a doctor work on him because he liked being beaten up, seriously and regularly. Seriously beaten up. I was told the doctor had to put his eyeball back in once the following morning. Francis killed many people, just with words. Minton was doing very well after the war. His drawings would sell well to magazines and he was quite a star. He mixed with Francis and drank with that mob. Francis, when he was asked what he thought of Minton’s work, said: ‘He can’t paint. He’s a book illustrator.’ That went straight into Minton. He just gave up. Francis was always cutting when asked what he thought of people. Some could not take it. I knew people who’d been destroyed by a few words.

Michael Heath, The kings of Soho, The Spectator, 1 September, 2018

 

 

 

I’ve now read two books by Rosseter and thought a lot about them. His visual descriptions are sometimes marvellous, but at times creativity and madness swop over disturbingly. I’ve always felt this power to express heightened consciousness is what matters most in art — or heaven knows if it matters most, but it surely must exist. Yet Rosseter has it to such an exceptional degree as to make it terrifying, a menace. He doesn’t, like Francis Bacon, present his sensitivity in terms of ugly squalor; beauty and significance, symbolism and humour are all present. Time to consider the subject of aesthetics again, I reflected, turning over the Bacon catalogue at the Sterns, and thinking to myself. ‘I don’t like them.’ I don’t believe he is a great artist whatever ‘they’ say. The view of life an artist presents must be important — in Goya’s horror there is beauty, nobility, indignation, pity, satire. I can’t see in Bacon any of these qualities except satire which revels in human squalor. I’m tired of being ‘impressed’ by him. As I sat in the Stern’s drawing-room, my dislike of what he does arose like heartburn within me.

Frances Partridge, January 17th, 1972; Ups and Downs—Diaries 1972-1975, Weidenfeld & Nicolson: 2001

 

 

 

The puffing and booming of Francis Bacon seems to me one of the silliest aberrations even of our exceptionally silly time. Here, summing up the silliness, is the director of the Tate, Mr Alan Bowness, in his foreword to the catalogue (a particularly sumptuous catalogue. Bacon is not a charlatan; he feels everything he expresses. Nor has he invented or imagined the darkness in mans soul; Auschwitz and Kolyma are not fairy-tales, nor is the Crucifixion. But Bacons version of the latter illustrates perfectly the fatuousness of Mr Bownesss claim that Bacon would hang naturally in our museums beside those of Rembrandt and Van Gogh. It is much too late to turn the tide. The received wisdom among the bien-pensants is that Francis Bacon is a great artist, and his work a series of imperishable masterpieces; my claim that the received wisdom and his work alike are very great nonsense will convince nobody except small boys who notice that the Emperor has no clothes. All the same, we have a duty to the present, and one part of that duty is to distinguish constantly between the true and the false.

Bernard Levin, A genius? I say rotten, The Times, Friday, June 28, 1985

 

 

 

Bacon always insisted that he had no ambition or desire to capture the human condition. He painted what he liked and what was there. This has proved an extraordinary difficult truth for others to accept. We have found it difficult to believe that when he said he found the meat in a butcher’s shop beautiful he meant only that, and that it was beautiful. Or that the books he collected full of illustrations of awful skin diseases and medical deformities gave him deep aesthetic pleasure. Bacon did not avert his eyes as most of us would have done, not because he was conscious of staring deep into the soul of the century but because he had kinky tastes. This is the man who visited South Africa to bugger black men. Who loudly supported the war in Vietnam. This is the cruel emotional retard who identified his friend, the photographer John Deakin, on a slab in the mortuary and reported gleefully back to Lucian Freud that Deakin’s “trap was shut for the first time in his life”.  This is the man whose lover committed suicide on the eve of an important Parisian opening — but who went through with the opening anyway.

Waldemar Januszczak, On the outside looking in, Books, The Sunday Time, 12 September, 1993

 

 

 

Bacons aesthetic importance has to do with his use of abstraction, geometrical as well as gestural, in the service of what Clement Greenberg dismissively called “human interest.” By using abstraction to allegorical ends, Bacon prevented it from becoming a dead end, as it did in the post-painterly abstraction Greenberg advocated. Bacon also suggests that abstraction must be alloyed with representation to keep the image of suffering—usually the domain of the old masters—convincing and fresh. More than any other artist since van Gogh, his idol as an adolescent, Bacon is a master of narcissistic injury. If van Gogh used the religion of  nature to express his suffering, Bacon embeds his pain in a distorted Christian iconography. Both verge on but avoid theatrical kitsch because of the abstract aesthetics that render their explosive imagery somehow peculiarly astringent. Bacons art is a triumph of contradiction, but in these taut last works he has struck a balance between the extremes (without reconciling them), suggesting that he had finally found contemplative peace. His eschatological masterpieces convey inevitable truth without sacrificing personal meaning.

Donald Kuspit, Francis Bacon—Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Art Forum, Volume 37, Number 6, February, 1999

 

 

 

But what is hidden there? It’s ‘self’? Certainly every portrait ever painted seeks to uncover the subject’s ‘self’. But Bacon lives in a time when the ‘self’ has everywhere begun to take cover. Looking at Bacon’s portraits, am amazed that, despite their ‘distortion’, they all look like their subject. But how can an image look like a subject of which it is consciously, programmatically, a distortion? And yet it does look like the subject ; photos of the persons portrayed bear that out; and even if I did not know those photos, it is clear that in all the triptychs, the various deformations of the face resemble one another, so that one recognizes in them some one and same person. However ‘distorted’, these portraits are faithful. That is what I find miraculous. I could put it differently: Bacon’s portraits are an interrogation on the limits of the self. Up to what degree of distortion does an individual still remain himself? To what degree of distortion does a beloved person still remain a beloved person? For how long does a cherished face growing remote through illness, through madness, through hatred, through death still remain recognizable? Where is the border beyond which a self ceases to be a self?

Milan Kundera, The Painter’s Brutal Gesture: On Francis Bacon; Encounter, Editions Gallimard: 2009

 

 

 

Bacon’s work is the kind that invites stereotyped reactions. He is seen as a master of crisis, directing a horror movie. The adjective most often given to his work, nightmarish, is not quite true to Bacon’s intentions; it does not go far enough. For nightmares, like movies, end. Bacon’s images, on the other hand, are thrust at us as the enduring substance of reality. They are not fantasies, but observation slits into a Black Hole of Calcutta, in which man thrashes about, stifled by claustrophobia and frustration, stabbing with penis or knife at the nearest body. This, Bacon insists, is the real world; it defines the suppressed condition of actual life. Bacon’s work is not pessimistic (or optimistic, for that matter), for it lives outside these parentheses on a terrain of amoral candour about the most extreme situations. The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom— so William Blake, whose mask Bacon once painted. Bacon’s career has been a pursuit of this truth, from the transvestite bars of 1920s Berlin to the green baize of Monte Carlo, where he still assuages his passion for gambling. He is the Genet of painting, most particularly in the lavishness with which he uses his own psyche as experimental material.

Robert Hughes, Out of the Black Hole, TIME, Monday December 13, 1971

 

 

 

 

 

 


“Two of the magicians of contemporary British art, Henry Moore and Francis Bacon, prove in their latest exhibition that they can still surprise us. It continues at the Marlborough New London gallery, 17, Old Bond Street, until the end of August. Several of the Moores were recently seen at the Tate. Others are on view for the first time, and all the Bacons are new. Moore, in a note  prefixed to his part of the catalogue, says: “I don
t think that we shall, or should, ever get far away from the thing that all sculpture is based on in the end: the human body.” Yet he has moved further from the human figure than ever before. Bacon is, if anything, moving in the opposite direction. His involvement with man’s dilemmas is more brutal, more uncompromising, than ever before. The force of his images is untouched by any redeeming humanity or hope. Even the two kneeling figure in his “Crucifixion” appear as a cruel commentary on the ordinary. It is as though not content with flaying his own soul, Bacon is determined to leave the rest of us with no refuge. His latest work wreaks of the corruption of the flesh. Yet despite all the pictorial ingenuity, and force, we remain not deeply touched. Neither Bacon nor events can quite kill hope.”

Terence Mulllaly, MAGICIANS OF ART CAN STILL SURPRISE; Moor & Bacon Exhibition, The Daily Telegraph, 16 July, 1965

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Authentic art of the past that for the time being must remain veiled is not thereby sentenced. Great works wait. While their metaphysical meaning dissolves, something of their truth content, however little it can be pinned down, does not; it is that whereby they remain eloquent. A liberated humanity would be able to inherit its historical legacy free of guilt. What was once true in an artwork and then disclaimed by history is only able to disclose itself again when the conditions have changed on whose account that truth was invalidated: Aesthetic truth content and history are that deeply meshed. A reconciled reality and the restituted truth of the past could converge. What can still be experienced in the art of the past and is still attainable by interpretation is a directive toward this state. Nothing guarantees that it will ever be followed. It is the course of time that unmasks these deficiencies, yet they are objective in quality and not a matter of shifting taste. Only the most advanced art of any period has any chance against the decay wrought by time. In the afterlife of works, however, qualitative differences become apparent that in no way coincide with the level of modernity achieved in their own periods.

 

Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, The Athlone Press London: 1997

 

 

 

 

 

Francis Bacon loathed the merely decorative, and consigned abstract art to that category. His best paintings are properly called ‘dramatic’, just as his least successful ones merit the description ‘theatrical’.  Bacon never editorialises, never assumes a moral stance. Those who dismiss his art as repellent are ignoring the humanness of it, a humanity he tried to give voice to in the silent scream that is his most potent image. To argue that he has no nowhere to go is not to see what he saw clearly, from an early age — that none of us has anywhere to go, except the grave. That nowhere — that awareness of a finite life, to be lived but once — is Baron’s somewhere, the place his paintings happen in.  In an essay on Bacon, Peter Fuller described him as an ‘evil’ genius. I like to think that Bacon would have found the combination of words amusing. He was aware of his talent, of course, but sceptical of any future fame. As he remarked to David Sylvester, ‘No artist knows in his lifetime whether what he does will be the slightest good, because I think it takes at least 75 to 100 years before the thing beings to sort itself out...’ And ‘evil’, surely, is pretty extreme. ‘Demonic’ makes better sense, with what it implies of obsession and of fiendish activity.

Paul Bailey, Imaginable Furies, Modern Painters, Number 3, Volume 6, Autumn 1993

 

 

 

 

In this stocktaking atmosphere a flailing attack on the whole modern-art phenomenon by a popular but maverick cultural commentator, Tom Wolfe, seems to have left an unexpectedly deep mark. His contention that much in recent American art came into being only to illustrate the theories of a few critics has an uncomfortable grain of truth in it, and though the art establishment has torn holes in his evidence, his thesis survives. In a ‘double’  which must be rare, another British artist is enthroned at the Metropolitan Museum. Thirty-six paintings by Francis Bacon, all done since 1967, have been chosen by the critic Henry Geldzahler; they include eight large triptychs and half of the pictures have never been seen before. All of them are shown under glass—a practice to which Bacon has recently reverted—and they continue the diary of his dark journey into the night in a series of tortured self-portraits and renderings of flayed and twisted figures trapped in brilliantly lit prison-cells of paint. Some of these spaces are tidier and more austere than before, but they still hold an electric charge of fear. Now and then the colour crawls dangerously near to over-emphatic decorativeness; but Bacon holds his own in paint as confidently as Caro does in steel.

Nigel Gosling, British stars and Scythian gold, Nigel Gosling In New York; The Observer Review, June 29, 1975

 

 

     

 

Bacon’s Popes just open their crude mouths and scream, long and loud. A thousand different expressions of sophisticated humanity are obliterated by that single animal yell. Right at he start of the show a group of zoo animals, a baboon, a chimpanzee, bare their fangs and scream across at the Velázquez-inspired Popes who just scream right back at them. The comparison between these two sets of caged creatures is all too obvious. Bacon’s are devotes much of its energy to underlining the blood-ties between mankind and the animals. His ‘Christ’ is a bullet-ridden corpse lying dead on a grubby hospital bed. The shuddering centrepiece of Three Studies of Figures on Beds (1972) is a scene of violent buggery. The left hand panel of Triptych May-June 1973, shows a figure sitting slumped on a toilet. In the right hand panel the same figure is vomiting into a sink. The received view about Bacon’s art and moments such as these, is that it shows the human condition as it is, not as it wishes to present itself to others, that it penetrates to the human unconsciousness, the violent darkness that is inside each of us. By focusing on the physical, overly masculine face of the human condition Bacons art presents a distinctly unbalanced view off it. This is its major shortcoming.

Waldemar Januszczak, Behind the brutality of Bacon, The Guardian, Wednesday, May 22, 1985

 

 

 

Risk was at the heart of Bacon’s painting. There was the risk that the accident might prove unusable. There was also the risk that the image would coalesce into mere proficiency. In the scenes and portraits of the Sixties and Seventies, a delicate balance was maintained between the image and the virtuoso formal invention. Bacon should not be taken so gravely. He was not the great painter of human suffering and mortality that he has been called. His effects were very much surface effects. His efforts were not towards the re-creation of the body’s weight and strength and weakness. Rather, he practiced extraordinarily vivid imitations or impersonations of the flesh — which, like the best impersonations, touch many nerves. He was a great and original caricaturist of the body, and like the best caricaturists he became a creative natural historian: after Bacon, there are now these strange kinds of creature in the world which weren’t there before. His great talent was for the face. His paintings of the head alone are the best: in particular those galleries of Studies for Portraits and Self-Portraits made in the late Sixties and early Seventies, where Bacon performs continually free and unpredictable facial improvisations, with a far wider emotional range than any mere vision of horror.

Tom Lubbock, So much for Bacon the man: what of the work?, The Independent on Sunday, 3 May, 1992

 

 

 

Francis Bacon has a new show on in Bond Street but there isnt much ‘newness about it except his increased popularity. In the narrow gut of the gallery, turds were slowly circulating. I stepped close and hoped I was appreciating the quality of the paint, but it gave me no pang, thrill or lift. Nor did I get the electric shock his first shows produced. I detected a feeling of depression, and revulsion caused by the carefully and thickly laid on backgrounds in unpleasant colours, the patterned carpets, and the horrid raised boot so many of his solitary characters project at one. There they sit, mashed and mangled within the prison walls of their rooms, relieved only by a bell-rope or electric light. What is this extremely clever man trying to say? Julian last night gave an illuminating reply, which like the best criticism made me want to go and have another look. He says he is proclaiming again and again and again the dreadful loneliness of the human animal. But what worries me is the lack of visual element in this presentation it seems too cerebral. The eye is not stimulated or pleased quite the reverse and I came away blank of feeling, either positive or negative. I feel teased by the problem he raises, and want to read his own account of what hes after but I mistrust the high value he sets on accidents.

Frances Partridge, March 17th, 1967; Diaries 1939-1972, Phoenix Press: 2001

 

 

 

These qualities of terror and anxiety that people so often talk about are the last things I’ve actually ever attempted to convey. I have attempted to be as realistic as I possibly can. If you really think about life, about realism, about a lump of meat on your plate, that, in itself, if you think about it, is a very frightening thing. And so, I’ve really been rather curious as to why people find my work ridden with anxiety. It is certainly not how I think about it. I’ve tried to make images that would unlock the valves of feeling on different levels. For me, to be realistic has meant extreme deformations. For example, I’m very interested in trying to do portraits, which now is almost an impossible thing to do, because you either make an illustration or a charged and meaningful appearance. It’s a continuous hazard, chance, or accident. I start, in a sense, almost like an abstract painter, although I hate abstract painting. I hate it because I think it can only end in decoration. But this dilemma ... how are you going to make a nose and not illustrate it? What stroke will make this nose a strong nose? Well, it’s chance. It is when for a moment chance has given you something which you can seize on and begin to build on. All the way through on anything of mine that works at all, it is like an accident that has slid into the right position.

Francis Bacon, Francis Bacon: A Night’s Journey and a Day, Vogue, London, 15 October, 1971

 

 

 

To understand the force of Bacons images we have to understand the way in which they undercut the regime of representation. Now this regime is described by the fact that it ties together my wish to see and what is presented to me, a unity of the scopic field and the spectator. But when the gaze as an object becomes detached from this scene, a dislocation occurs. A gap opens up—the circuit is broken. The illusion of wholeness has been, as it were, castrated. In fact we can treat Bacon’s images as just that—castration erupting within our wish to see, within the scopic field. To the extent that pictures are narratives, and it must be remembered that Bacon specifically and repeatedly refuses narrative, they depend on the fascination of the spectator, they act as traps for the gaze. One no longer has vision, but the eye lives on. The function of vision has been subtracted from the eye. The violence of sensation has squeezed out a literal essence of being, the lamella, a puddle of being. To claim that the lamella appears in Bacons work is to claim that he has taken the detachment of the gaze to its limit. The painting are as far as possible withdrawn from the painting of everyday life, while yet capturing the appearance of a human being. The violence of the painting is the correlate of the violence of appearing. What is at stake is not violence but paint.

Parveen Adams,  The Violence of PaintThe Emptiness of the Image, Routledge, New York, 1996

 

 

 

In conversation, the late Clement Greenberg complained that he found Bacon too crisp, by which I think he meant that the works  remained too thin and linear, insufficiently realised in solid juicy paint. David Sylvester wrote in 1962 of the way the intensity that Bacon achieves in certain passages of a large number of the canvases has not been sustained throughout the whole area of any them. In the later work there is generally a jarring dislocation  between the figures executed in meaty swirls of oil paint and the crisp, clear, brightly coloured settings which are close to geometric abstract painting. When all such allowances have been made, however, there is a sameness to his work which perhaps resulted from its lack of direct contact with reality. Towards the end there was a clear falling off. But repetitiousness is a common fate of late twentieth-century artists of all varieties — figurative, abstract, conceptual. Late twentieth-century painters do not throw off one masterpiece after another like masters of the seventeenth century. Bacon produced perhaps twenty images that look sure to last. That, by contemporary standards, makes him a very significant figure. He created a genuinely fresh way of seeing human beings. Even so, as he said himself, it takes 75 to 100 years for a reputation to settle down. Time is the only great critic.

Martin Gayford, The Brutality of Fact; Bacon & Freud, Modern Painters, Autumn, 1996

 

 

 

Bacon does convey exhilaration. It’s the kind of thing Nietzsche is on about, which many people I’ve been close to in my life have had a sense of. Wilson Knight, the Shakespeare critic, wrote that the worse the tragedy becomes in Shakespeare’s plays the better the poetry gets. The poetry always rises. It may be a very obvious thing to say. I don’t think it is just a mystique of suffering, rather it involves the Nietzschean view (and maybe this is true of all Greek tragedy too), that despite the horror there is something affirmative at the heart of tragedy. Bacon does affirm in a way that I don’t feel other British artists of his generation do. He is much more explicit and more, in a way, eccentric than Frank Auerbach, for example. I would never describe a Bacon image  of a person as a nude, whereas I think that Frank Auerbach is basically working within the traditional academic genres. In Bacon it’s not just a naked body, it’s an emblem of a human being. Bacon was like a dark sun around whom these other planets revolved–Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews. But the light they took from Bacon was a sort of darkness. I am talking partly about an art that had elements of miserablism in it. Although Bacon is in a sense amoral, there is a certain arduousness that goes with him which easily becomes overbearing and oppressive.

Timothy Hyman, Under Bacon’s Black Sun, Art International, Autumn 1989

 

 

 

Bacon’s paintings are as stately as the portraits of ancestors in English country houses, even though the forms are evasive and hard to pin down. The composition of his paintings prepares us for an image in the Grand Manner, but when we look closely, its forms and composition seem to stretch, as in a distorting mirror, or dissolve out of focus. The result is that everything in Bacon tends to produce uncertainty, often of an ominous or breathtaking kind. In a new painting of Bacon’s Landscape near Malabata, Tangier his dazzling colour range, and emotive power of his imagery, can be seen. The landscape is sucked into a kind of vortex, and surrounded by a screen, like the canvas windbreaks they put up on Côte d’Azur beaches, or, perhaps, like the pens in which, three hundred years ago, royal bore hunts took place. The forms within this arena are blurred by wind or movement, including the evocative human-looking smear in the foreground. Why does Bacon paint sinister and harrowing subjects? This is a question that, often asked, needs to be answered, although one is tempted to say, why not? After all, nobody demands ‘why bottles?’ when faced with Giorgio Morandi’s still calm lifes. One answer takes the whole affair out of painting and into the area of moralizing editorial writers. This arguing sees Bacon as a mirror held up to the human condition, faithful recorder of a bad time.

Lawrence Alloway, Francis Bacon A Great, Shocking, Eccentric Painter, Vogue, New York, November 1, 1963

 

 

 

 

In a way, you know, I became Bacon’s concierge or butler. I used to get telephone calls from photographers asking me whether I’d sit for them. I’d say: “Well, I’m very honoured that you should want to photograph me.” Then the conversation would always develop in the same way: “Do you think we could photograph you in Francis Bacon’s studio?” And then: “Do you think that he might join you in a photograph or two, or that we might do some pictures of him?” So I felt too personally associated with Bacon. I felt and still feel that he had two really great periods. One was from about 1944/1945 to 1954; the other from about 1971 to 1976. I don’t think there were many great works during the last fifteen years of his career, apart from a number of landscapes which were quite wonderful. I think, too, my placing of Bacon hasn’t much changed. I don’t say this in the book, because I don’t think a book is the place to give medals, but I would now suggest that he was one of the four biggest figures in European art in the second half of the twentieth century. Disregarding people such as Picasso and Matisse, who were already great performers from the first half of the century, I would place him alongside Giacometti, Dubuffet and Beuys. But there are several American artists whom I would place above Bacon— Newman, Pollock, de Kooning, Johns and Twombly. They were, too me, greater painters than Bacon.”

 

David Sylvester, The art on the interview, Tate, Issue Number 26, Autumn: 2001

 

 

 

 

 

An intensely physical man, Bacon always uses gestures to reinforce the meaning he wants to convey. When he talks about seizing and trapping the ‘brutality of life, his hands thrust outwards as if to grasp the image he is trying to describe. Watching him gesticulate and move restlessly across the seat he sat in  realised how this energy becomes translated into paintings which express a writhing and exclamatory vision of humanity. Although many critics have accused him of exaggerating and even sensationalising the violence of existence, Bacon is entirely sincere. He has never lost the capacity to be at once startled and captivated by ‘the rawness of life’. The brooding awareness of mortality which haunts all his pictures is matched by an ebullient desire to clutch at the pulse of vitality while it lasts. Ultimately, though, Bacon’s work derives much of its distinction from his ability to combine aggression with nicety, headlong abandon with hair’s-breadth calculation. He knows the virtue of restraint as well as the exhilaration of onslaught, and the convulsive passages in his art are always countered by areas of extreme understatement. Bacon’s paintings are exquisite as well as impetuous. Thriving on an audacious delight in improvisation and accident, but at the same time driven by a stern desire for order and discipline, Bacon manages to reconcile these two seemingly opposed urges in his finest work.

Richard Cork, Virtuoso manipulator of paint, The Listener, 15 November 1984

 

 

 

 
The popular image of Bacon’s art is one of unremitting horrors: twentieth-century man, Pope and ordinary guy alike, soundlessly screaming. In reality Bacons aim has always been to take himself by surprise, to unlock the valves of feeling, as he put it, rather than to maintain a successful line in deliberate nastiness. He has constantly asserted the dignity of man, against the odds, in a futile world. His lack of formal training was a handicap Bacon turned to advantage. Uninhibited by drawing skills or rules of composition, he painted simply for effect. The worrisome code of the Euston Road School, for instance, meant nothing to him. Picasso was more his style, and the spiky vehemence of Picassoesque Sutherland. He became a master of frontal assault and tactical blurring. The hands are always fudged in a Bacon, either pocketed or left conspicuously vague. Footwear is blunted. Features are pulled together as though stocking-masked. Hence the air of victimisation and menace. Ambition, of course, is not enough. That vital Baconism, strategic inarticulacy, may be dramatically effective, but it’s also a persistent cover-up. Smudging the paint at key points, wiping out rummaging fingers or the bridge of the nose, seemingly in the heat of the moment, is a means of fending off banality. Bacon’s greatness is little to do with making your flesh creep in a climate of violence. It comes of transforming portraiture, the fundamental art.

William Feaver, Saving Bacon, Observer Review, Sunday 26 May 1985

 

 

 

 

Apart from providing critics with a rare opportunity to show how well they can use rhetoric, the Francis Bacon retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, opening to the public tomorrow, is a major event in a number of ways. It brings 65 more or less shocking canvases by the most influential of figure-painters (if what he paints can be called figures) to this country for the first time. It will mark the complete acceptance of Bacon over here as a modern master’ with prices to match. It will provide a source of endless discussion as to what he is saying in pictures that have an air of occult degradation. And it is an event in the history of painting in that Bacon’s art is the first major expression on paint of a sensibility that has filled the by-ways of far-out literature with many little and a few major masterpieces. What Bacon is saying, in the 65 canvases strung around the ramp of the Guggenheim in arcs of powerfully designed pictures that carry across the well of space like a sonic boom, is not capable of exact formulation. He is a state of mind, or a state of nerves, confronting violence and perversion, with results that resemble a state half-way between a catatonic stupor and hysterical mysticism. The sensibility brings one to Genet, and the purification of vice through ceremony. Many are due for shocks at the Guggenheim as this great Outside is swallowed (fashion and Bacon’s great talents it) by the Insiders coming to take their medicine.

Brian O’Doherty, A Bacon Retrospective, Art, The New York Times, Thursday, October 17, 1963

 

 

 

 

In Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera there’s a wonderful moment when the scene shifter describes to the girls of the corps de ballet that he has seen the ghost in box five he describes the ghost to the girls and he says, in a way in which logic itself can’t tolerate, but clearly we know exactly what he means, he says: and the ghost has no nose and that no nose is a horrible thing to look at. It’s something that isn’t there but should be. I want to suggest that one dimension of the achievement of Bacon is in a sense to take this problem on board directly. What people describe as being ugly we should consider it a defence and if you can undo this defence, if, like Bacon, you can propel the spectator into the midst of meat and find it not only human but essentially human, then, as it were, you remove some of the defences which so often kind of disable, I don’t mind putting it bluntly, disable public taste. It is a struggle. Now if something like this is the case, that I’m more than aware that I haven’t said directly anything about architecture and texture, then one of the ways we might consider the issues this evening is to think within the scope of Bacon’s adult career what also happens within architecture to be able to do that: at the level of a certain materiality and at the level of texture, that is to say, to undermine the public defence against the ugly and actually to propel it towards something new and powerful and human not in a humanistic way but human almost in a somewhat unnerving way.”

Mark Cousins, Architecture & Design in the Bacon Era: Texture, Tate Britain Auditorium, 1st. October 2008

 

 

 

 

“Bacon as a man devoted to what Baudelaire defined as “the cult of the self was the real Regency McCoy. This Byronic aspect to his nature had something to do with a complete absence of sentimentality, a recklessness, a bleak rationality, an awareness that his lack of religious faith was in itself despair, and also an intense animalism. The animalism was the first thing one felt on meeting him, a palpable magnetic field. It gave one some inkling of what he meant when he rather mystifyingly described his art as trying to record his feelings about things as closely to his “own nervous system as he could. He wanted to conduct this nervous energy into his painting, to vent its expressive power. On one occasion I was standing close behind him when an artist he disliked entered the room. Immediately he stiffened, bristled, became alert as a dog. It was the only time I have witnessed the hairs stand up on the back of a human neck. No fight ensued, or hostile conversation. It was more menacing than that. As a younger man he must have been capable of being quite terrifying. The electricity showed itself in other ways. It preserved his youth to a Dorian Gray extent. Right till the end, into his eighties, he still looked 10 to 20 years younger than he was. There was no sense of that collapse which most of us suffer in ripe middle age. He walked with a spring in a step, a semi-tiptoe effect well described by the sobriquet of “Lightfoot, which he had chosen for himself when he worked for a short time as a butler.

John McEwan, Francis Bacon, The Sunday Telegraph, May 3rd, 1992

 

 

 

 

Bacon’s mastery of texture is evident not only in the controlled energy of such gestural distortions, but also in his rendering of the subtleties of physical objects, from the coat, hat, umbrella and plants in the Figure Studies of 1945–46, to the floor, furniture, and rolled-up sleeves of his black shirt in Self-Portrait with a Watch, 1973. That work reminds us that the relentless movement of time, documented in Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of moving bodies–a marked-up sheet of reproductions of which, from Bacon’s archive, was on view here in the one room devoted to ephemera–is as much a part of his art as the interplay between the rectilinear “space box” in which he encloses his figures and the curvilinear space of the rooms in which they sit. Color and texture come together in the broad color field frames in which Bacon sets his figures, confirming that his paintings are essentially abstract–for the figures also are abstract signifiers of pure gestural painting, however “meaty.” Even when Bacon sometimes uses uncolored raw canvas as a “picture plane,” he always uses it in a refined way, juxtaposing if with areas of pure colour, confirming that his pictures are formal constructions. Their board, flat, impassive expanses seem to encapsulate the abstract sublime: They transcend the figures, even as they reveal their inner emptiness (their storm and stress finally signal nothing; their abstractness is a projection of the “death within”)–however emotionally raw, ugly, and outspoken their uncanny subject matter.


Donald Kuspit, Francis Bacon, Art Forum, Volume 48, Number 3, November 2009

 

 

 

His extraordinary convincingness is that he paints us not as we would like to see ourselves, but as organisms distorted in our physiognomy and behaviour by the visual world of machinery in which we are trapped. He paints the business tycoon as we might expect his desk or his telephone to see him; a patient as he might appear from the point of view of the psycho-analysts couch. And this is how we really are. After visiting a Bacon exhibition, one observes one’s fellow passengers in tube-train or lift with opened eyes: and then catches a glimpse of oneself, one of them, reflected in a window or fogged and lipstick-smeared looking-glass. Bacon depicts man the result of man-made inhuman circumstances, therefore self-dehumanized. His figures are the ultimate contemporaries: cut off from the past, or only able to see it through their distorting lenses of the present, incapable of hope for the future. Instantaneous exposure becomes the way of seeing life insulated within the moment, an aesthetic of anti-aestheticism, a Weltanschauung. There is certainly much hatred and disgust in these anti-sentimental, anti-aesthetic, anti-painting pictures. But there is also religious feeling. What is in doubt is whether there is love. Fifty years from now people will be able to decide this more assuredly than we can now. But meanwhile we ought to give this agonizingly honest portrayer of himself and ourselves the benefit of the doubt. For, at the very least, there is a great deal about ourselves and our world that we may learn from his art.

 Stephen Spender, Francis Bacon at Nottingham, The Listener, Volume 65, Issue 1665, Thursday, February 23, 1961

 

 

 

From certain Fayum portraits, through a lace-collar by Velázquez and a beach by Constable, to an asparagus by Manet, they constitute, it seems to me, Bacons real lineage. Others have seen the rift and opted for one side or the other: abstract paint or literal reality. What makes Bacon frightening is not his subject-matter but the fact that, in his practice, he shows art and actual living to be unmixable and inseparable.’ The Council of Chalcedon, in AD 458, thus defined the nature of Christ: I can think of no more apt definition for Bacon’s painting. Indeed, his fascination with the Crucifixion may well be attributed to the fact that Christianitys central mystery provides the pattern for the mystery of painting: reality must allow itself to be put to death by paint in order to be resurrected as image. Hence perhaps Bacon’s jubilation at the disappearance of painting in our time: it proves that painting is just beginning. The image will have reality only as long as we do not mistake it for reality; and when we do (when we want to touch it), the image relapses into paint. And so on indefinitely, within each picture. Or rather, in that small section of the picture where the identification is attempted. The rest is frozen in expectancy, waiting for the chance conjunction to occur. Tertullian called this period (those glacial three days before the Resurrection), refrigerium interim.  No artist has given us a grander vision of this ghastly moment of suspension, which is the Christian legacy  to our post-Christian age. The great areas of colour, stilled by nocturnal brilliance, should clash, but do not. They are petrified while the dice are rolling.

Pierre Schneider, THE SAVAGE GOD, A French View of Francis Bacon, The Sunday Times, Sunday November 7, 1971

 

 

 

The experience of the meaning of the face determines the phantasy of what is behind the face. Facial expression seizes possession of a depth which is implied. In reading the surface, I fill out what is behind the surface with the depth of the surface...When I look at you, I do not only imagine that the surface of your face epitomizes an expression; the experience of your face overwhelms any thought of what might lie behind it. The depth of your face exhausts any question of ‘behind’. This phantasy is shockingly curtailed by the sight of a facial wound. Suddenly the phantasy of depth is shattered by the perceptual registration that there is a behind to the face and that, far from supporting the experience of depth, it projects the stuff of another order, or disorder. The sight of subcutaneous reality, the sudden, crazy sight of flesh and bone is altogether too much. It seizes my attention because it does not signify, because of its evident character of being too much, too close, too soon. It does not so much undermine as ‘overmine’ the face and its expressive economy. The face does not collapse; the face is thrown off. The depth of expression is relegated to the surface of a mask. The moment of ugliness, then, is the shattering of the subject’s phantasy of what makes up the object, in which the object is permeated by its surface just as a face is, and not that there is a non-signifying interior whose pressure to appear is concealed only by the temporary and mendacious skin of a mask. The trauma, for the subject, is occasioned by the sudden appearance of ‘stuff’, the stuff which threatens to overwhelm and engulf the subject, and to contaminate the subject with its own lack of meaning.”

Mark Cousins, The Ugly, AA Files, Number 29, Summer, 1995

 

 

 

The customary attitudes to Bacon were established 10 years or so ago (one is thankful for any familiar stance from which to view a frequently uncomfortable prospect) and most of the critical clichés seem to have been fixed around 1950. We have lately had them all over again, the agonies of the times, the human predicament and so on, much as usual. They are doubtless justified, in a general way. But if words are not to come between us and the pictures, I would propose a truce in general interpretations of Bacon, and a look at what he is in fact now doing. There is no style, none of the kind of  systematic method that all other figurative painters one can think of have provided themselves with (to protect themselves from just this extremity). Instead Bacon has just abandoned himself to the catastrophic hazards of the paint, seeking in them the possible kinds of likeness, possible orders of existence, possible presences, that any image from art or life that he can lay his hands on can suggest. But now the prototypes mean less, or nothing, and the risks that are courted are new ones. The images are evidently seen, and both his purpose and the accidents that befall it are rather different than before. When the time comes for a general interpretation of these latest pictures of Bacon’s, they too may conceivably be found to contain more of love than anything else. In the meantime it is fairly clear that Bacon is the first English man to deal radically and originally enough with figure-painting to lean an indelible mark on the art; let us enjoy the pictures at the New London before some of the best of them leave the country. Painting (I write as a critic)—it’s wonderful! Criticism—it’s useless.

Lawrence Gowing, Another look at Francis Bacon, The Observer Weekend Review, 11 August 1963
 

 

 


The elusiveness of Francis Bacon’s paintings to critical analysis are a measure of their success. As much as one is tempted to examine a particular influence on Bacons work, and the temptation is great since Bacon has been quite forthcoming in acknowledging his sources, it is practically impossible to draw direct and, consequently, revealing parallels. Furthermore, focusing on any single element in one of Bacons paintings usually undermines the meaning of the work rather than clarify it. In a sense, though, this was Bacon’s objective. In one of his last Interviews, Bacon observed: Most of the time when one talks about painting, one says nothing interesting. Its always rather superficial. What can one say? Basically, I believe that you simply cannot talk about painting, it just isnt possible. Yet, Bacons paintings have been talked about a great deal with varying success, as one might expect.  Part of the problem is that Bacon himself could not refrain from talking about them, fueling an interest in possible links between his work and that of painters like Van Gogh and Degas, or writers such as Aeschylus, Shakespeare and T. S. Eliot. That poets and playwrights are mentioned frequently by Bacon is rather curious since he prefaced the passage cited above by noting: Painting is a world of its own, its self-sufficient. In addition, his desire to allow narrative to play only a very minor role in his work seems to preclude any parallels with literature. But bacon stressed his favourite authors too often for them to simply be ignored in the context of his own work... In large part what bacon admired of the writers he read was not what could be appropriated and re-formulated through the language of paint, but rather what could not.

John G. Hatch, Fatum as Theme and Method in the Work of Francis Bacon,  Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 19, No. 37, 1998

 

 

 

The classical artist confronts chaos as a raw untamed matter upon which he or she imposes form. This process proceeds with a “one-two, the binary differentiation of form, and the articulation of these forms in series. This is the classical form of form, as it were, acting as the precondition to any creation. Art functions to subject a chaotic and unclean matter to the pure beauty of an ideal form. Deleuze develops a “logic of sensation through his encounter with the work of Francis Bacon, a logic that is both explicitly Bacons, and stands as Deleuzes most developed statement of his thinking about painting. Bacons “insubordinate color-patches and traits (FB, 156/146) arc purely manual (marks and wipes), and introduce the catastrophe into the eye and its optical space, beginning, as we shall go on to see, our own dissolution. These traits and patches produce, Deleuze writes, “a frenetic zone in which the hand is no longer guided by the eye and is forced upon sight like another will, which appears as chance, accident, automatism, or the involuntary” (FB, 137/129). These “accidental” movements of the hand introduce chaos into the process of creation; they are Bacon‘s hand throwing the dice Deleuze writes, using another Nietzschean figure, a throw that eternally returns in the act of painting. Paint is molecularised in the accident, Deleuze suggests, giving a world of infinite smallness and infinite largeness, “as if the units of measure were changed, and micrometric, or even cosmic, units were substituted for the figurative unit. A Sahara, a rhinoceros skin: such is the suddenly out-stretched diagrarm”  (FB, 100/94). The canvas has become a space undecidably microscopic or cosmic, breathing the air of chaos and infolding its infinite distances.

Stephen Zepke, Art as Abstract Machine—Ontology and Aesthetics in Deleuze and Guattari, Routledge: 2005

 

 

 

“The purpose of art is to destroy meaning. And whatever else that’s not what you normally hear. Unfortunately we live in a culture, which, in its humanist babble, says the purpose of art is like to produce meaning. As though meaning is kind of an unalloyed good. I shall be arguing that meaning is a terrible reactionary shackle and that the purpose of art is always to destroy meaning... Actually, this thesis, concerning the destruction of meaning, and, as it were, why we should be in favour of it, can I think perhaps be better initially illuminated by thinking about our normal account of power... Power is something which is sustained only by obedience – without obedience, there is no exercise of power. And often when we say we are analyzing relations of power, it would be more accurate to say, we should be analyzing relations of obedience. Now, if you take power at the most simple sense – in the form of a command – a command is here, above all, a piece of meaning; therefore, disobedience is the destruction of the meaning of the command... The state of emergency, here, is prefigured by the poetry – I don’t just mean poetry here, I can mean art – the visual arts – or architecture – and I return to the fact that they are, in some sense, nothing other than an attack on signification... So when I say it’s attack on meaning, or it’s an attack of signification, I mean the existing order of signification – what some other people will call reality since reality is nothing other than the conventional way but which is non optional; it’s a compulsory interpretation of what’s what – and so the poetic image is always, by its nature, a fundamental, we might almost say an ontological, rebellion against signification... So the poetic image calls us, in a sense, to rebel against signification.”

Mark Cousins, The Poetics of Cliché, The Architectural Association: London, 3rd February, 2012

 

 

 

I think Bacon is one of the greatest painters of all time. Hes up there with Goya, Soutine and Van Gogh: dirty painters who wrestle with the dark stuff. He’s complicated. Its not essentially about formal skill or technique or dexterity. Its about belief. I believe! And the struggle, the sense that you somehow grunt your way though it by sheer will. Thats whats inspiring to me, alongside the sheer bravery of confronting the dark side, the shadows, the full force of the human psyche. If you compare him to Lucien Freud, say, its obvious that Freud is the more technically accomplished painter. He can read what he sees, and render it. Bacon couldnt do that. If you look at the feet in his paintings, theyre bloody awful. He cant do boots. [Laughs] But its so bloody powerful. His work always veers into the imagination. Theres always this raw, dark power, this visceral energy that is compelling. The paint is alive. Great art comes from nowhere. In a way, I think Bacon said ‘fuck off to what went before. He didnt go the traditional route that the great painters went. He didnt have the patience to be like Velasquez or Ingres or whoever. He used to look to these guys, but he just didnt have the patience to be like them and do what they did. He painted from photographs, he stuck bits of corduroy in there, bits of glass, whatever it took to get there. He talked about the brutality of fact. Its incredibly brave to take that on, to face up to the horror and stare it down. Over and over. He pushed himself to the edge every time. They give you the shivers, his best paintings. He looks into the room that no one wants to look in. He looks in the mirror and he sees meat. He shuns tenderness. He wants to sleep on a hard bed. I think he saw the brutality early on and he decided to take it on.

Damien Hirst, 'He’s one of the greatest artists of all time', Art, The Observer, Sunday, August 10, 2008

 

 

 

I don’t think that language enables people to communicate in the way in which people think that communication takes place. Frequently we see a diagram about what thought is and about what the relationship between thought and language and communication is: the diagram involves two heads, two empty heads, which have a thing in the head, like an idea or something, and sort of arrows will go showing how thought is put into language and out of the mouth comes an arrow and the arrow goes straight into someone’s ear and when it’s got to the ear it ends up in the brain and the second person now has exactly the same idea as the first person. This diagram, in different ways, has been appearing for two hundred years: it’s completely wrong, it’s completely daft, it’s so evidently wrong, and yet it goes on actually being celebrated as the fundamental account of communication, and therefore the purpose of language, and the purpose of language is to communicate what’s thought. Language really doesn’t communicate anything to anybody. If the function of language was to communicate something, there’s something fundamentally wrong with language. Our experience of language I think is somewhat different from that. One of the things we know about language is that, although it gives us the wish to communicate something, we know that we never do: no sooner have I finished speaking to you, then I know I haven’t communicated. In a sense, you could say, that language is, rather, the consequence of misunderstanding. The function of language is always to try and undo misunderstanding by proliferating it. Otherwise, if you think about it, once you have communicated something there’d be no problem, that would be it, you wouldn’t be left with any residue.

Mark Cousins, Metaphor, Language, Thinking, Architectural Association, London: 1996

 

 

 

FORGET the greatest British painter since Turner, says Daniel Farson. Bacon was the greatest world painter of the second half of the twentieth century. It is the sort of over-the-top statement which means nothing and may eventually damage Bacon’s reputation. He was not the greatest world painter of the last forty years. I would say that he was not even the greatest British painter of his times, since I believe his long-time friend Lucian Freud to be that, but in so far as the term means anything, he was a great painter, powerful, as original as anybody can be, and after he found himself, totally uncompromising. What makes writing about his painting so treacherously difficult is the temptation to see it as narrative, to invest every picture with a story and even a moral, whether about homosexuality or the human condition or existentialism or despair. In an attack on him in an Observer obituary article, Paul Johnson even said his paintings reflected an Irish fear of death. But the truth is that more than most, Bacon paintings are paintings first, last and all the time. Ones total response is governed by ones response to the smears of paint, to the curved brush-strokes which create curious concavities in the faces of his sitters and to the inexplicably satisfying textural effect of the almost dry brush dragging paint across the unsized canvas. OF COURSE Bacon had a bleak and, to use the fashionable phrase, disturbing view of the human condition; but the predicament of his people is conveyed in unforgettably pictorial terms. Solitary or coupling, they are tapped. They are enclosed in some strange box or stark arena. Some of them are evidently screaming. The philosophical extensions are subordinate to what is there in the picture for all to see.

Anthony Cronin, Bacon, the zestful pessimist, Sunday Independent, Sunday, May 2, 1993

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The purpose of art is to destroy meaning. And whatever else that’s not what you normally hear. Unfortunately we live in a culture, which, in its humanist babble, says the purpose of art is like to produce meaning. As though meaning is kind of an unalloyed good. I shall be arguing that meaning is a terrible reactionary shackle and that the purpose of art is always to destroy meaning... Actually, this thesis, concerning the destruction of meaning, and, as it were, why we should be in favour of it, can I think perhaps be better initially illuminated by thinking about our normal account of power... Power is something which is sustained only by obedience – without obedience, there is no exercise of power. And often when we say we are analyzing relations of power, it would be more accurate to say, we should be analyzing relations of obedience. Now, if you take power at the most simple sense – in the form of a command – a command is here, above all, a piece of meaning; therefore, disobedience is the destruction of the meaning of the command... The state of emergency, here, is prefigured by the poetry – I don’t just mean poetry here, I can mean art – the visual arts – or architecture – and I return to the fact that they are, in some sense, nothing other than an attack on signification... So when I say it’s attack on meaning, or it’s an attack of signification, I mean the existing order of signification – what some other people will call reality since reality is nothing other than the conventional way but which is non optional; it’s a compulsory interpretation of what’s what – and so the poetic image is always, by its nature, a fundamental, we might almost say an ontological rebellion against signification... So the poetic image calls us, in a sense, to rebel against signification.”

Mark Cousins, The Poetics of Cliché, The Architectural Association: London, 3rd February, 2012

 

 

 

Ginsberg  elicited from Bacon a telling remark about his painting. On asking how he completed a work, Bacon told him he did it with a chance brushstroke that locked the magic in — a fortuitous thing that he couldn’t predict or orchestrate. The overall image and structure of the work was not usually improvised and he often used photographic source material, but he explained to Dicky Chopping in 1974 that the creation of the image was a process of evolution: I don’t see pictures at once. I let them seep into my consciousness. He did not like to draw in preparation for a painting — saying to Chopping, I feel that if I did drawings I would only be illustrating my own ideas — and few Bacon drawings exist. There was a spontaneity in the application of paint; the particular way the paint coalesced to form a feature involved accident or magic. There was great prestige in having a retrospective at the Tate in his own lifetime, but Bacon turned up in jeans to the private view, with Janetta Woolley as his companion. As the focus of the evening, he has not brought an invitation and, to his amusement, was initially refused entry until someone recognized him. Maggie Hambling remembers one exhibition opening at Hintlesham Hall when Bacon was so drunk that he was unable to walk. Chopping stood to one side of him and Wirth-Miler the other. They slowly manoeuvred his slumped body around the exhibition as if carrying a ventriloquist’s dummy. After the death of Dyer, Bacon became increasingly reliant on Wirth-Miller, and vice versa; Bacon wrote in an undated letter, you know you are one of the only people I can talk to and I hold you in great esteem. Their relationship went beyond confidences and conversation: the two supported each other’s vices — drinking, gambling and rowing — without repercussion.

Jon Lys Turner, The Visitors’ Book—In Francis Bacon’s Shadow: The Lives of Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller, Constable: 2016

 

 

 

“Bacon said the hardest thing is knowing what to paint. If you don’t have the physical urge, you can talk yourself out of it intellectually before you even pick up a brush. I don’t think in any other way. I have to be in the studio, I don’t have ideas unless I’m physically doing it. When you think about British painters – Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Aurbach – they never really became abstract. There’s an abstraction within, but there’s still figuration. The danger if you’re more figurative, is that you can belittle things by describing them, or illustrating them. There’s always that fear. This is why I always say figuration is so much harder, because of that line you can cross into illustrating – just showing what something looks like. Bacon is actually pretty flat, and of course he was very afraid of being an illustrator. I think he relied on the glass a lot, but he’s clever in directing the way the viewer looks. You can’t just get it straightaway. We look at things so much in reproduction, and of course, in reproduction you don’t get any of that, you just get the flat image. So many Americans don’t get Bacon, and I wonder if you really need to see it in the flesh, because if you see it in reproduction, it’s so flat. Bacon can seem slightly histrionic and absurd, I think, for Americans. Whereas if you’re British or European, you grew up with that postwar sensibility. Our parents remember rationing. It was in the air when I was a kid. The further we get away from the 1970s, when I grew up, the more I realize that we were actually closer to the war then than we are to the 1970s now. What, to Americans, might seem slightly bizarre in Bacon or Freud is that it’s too angsty. In abstraction, there’s room for anxiety as well as this sort of sublime, because the mood shifts: you can look at a Rothko and it’s more about what you bring to it.”

Cecily Brown, A Private View: Cecily Brown on Francis Bacon, Interviews, Artspace Magazine, 4 September, 2020

 

 

 

The problem with which Francis Bacon faces us in his art is the problem of imagery so strong in its superficial presence and immediate impact that even those who are now familiar with it, and have come to accept it, have needed time and application to see beyond it and so move deeper into the work. Those blessed with less visual, more literary habits of interpretation and more literal a cast of mind can think of nothing, as they can see nothing, more than the apparent violence done to the human figure, the gratuitous, arbitrary distortion, an easy, pitiless contempt for the human condition. What seems to be the message is to them everything. If there were nothing more to it than that, how could we not agree with them in rejecting what merely disgusts us, and distrusting what we cannot see. But of course there is more to it, much more: a mere talent for grotesque invention never made a painter great, and as with all forms of art, it is what the artist does with his image and his imaginative material in format terms, how he makes it, puts it together and disposes it, that is the real test. The question is never one of content nor of form alone, but always of form in relation to content, of what the work is quite as much as of what it might also be in its imaginative reference and suggestion. From this tense and critical relation the work derives all emotional force and imaginative profundity. Bacon has often said that his work is about nothing other than itself. There is no specific message, programme or polemic to it, and to look for one is to miss the point. His effort is directed only to realising each image physically on the canvas, to give it a life of its own, a kind of independence to shift for itself, and in the process to exorcise one of those images which seem to have haunted his vision for so long, to lay the ghost at last, if only for a moment.

William Packer, The haunting vision of Francis Bacon, Financial Times, Tuesday May 28, 1985

 

 

 

BACONS recent paintings at the New London Gallery show as clearly as ever that he is projecting an image of death from which all positive life or hope is rigorously excluded. That is the point of his work and its fatal restriction. He is not making a tragic image. Instead, he is playing out a morbid—not tragic—obsession which has meaning within the terms of psychopathology, but can never attain the universality of genuine tragedy, for this needs an alternative ingredient to offset its negation and provide the real catharsis that we find in Mantegna, Rembrandt, and Goya. The horror of absolute corruption, brought almost to the edge of death, is hermetically sealed in Bacons work and clings on, sick and fearful, in a self-absorbed trance. The painting itself is bold and energetic but undermined by the weakness of expressionist rapportage intent upon registering feeling in terms of paint without any constructive thought to push the paint further. And so the formal quality of his figures and backgrounds are rarely successful, and even then only at an elementary level. The compression chamber, the intangible prison cell, so familiar from literature, has lost its meaning and turns into a sentimental device ... There is also the disagreeable feeling that something repellent is being gilded, prettified, in a chic sense—a chunk of raw, putrefying meat in a smart, bright décor ... Bacon’s shortcomings are those of any artist crippled by an excessively self-indulgent obsessive vision. Outside that, out in the world, only a handful of people can truthfully respond, though they can stare through lurid shock. For his work has not made a world with real meaning for any possible society, but only a morbid aspect of what is anti-life, a painful travesty ritual on the razor’s edge of death. Trapped there, it is incapable of growth, only an occasional increase in confidence at a fixed level.

Bryan Robertson, Moore and Bacon, The Listener, Volume 70, Issue 1791, Thursday, July 25, 1963

 

 

 

“In a sense making something, making something through an aggressive relation to the world, but you are repairing something that you have always already damaged. Now, although this is offered, as it were, at the level of hypothetical accounts of infant development, you can see here fundamentally two utterly radically different and opposed psychoanalytic accounts of art; the one, as it were, the Freudian account, basing itself upon the pleasure of phantasy and its aggressive relation to the world; the other, as a form of art being, as it were, a reparative afterthought for the damage which one has always already occasioned, an account of art which, if not kind of directly related to, is always in one way or another, found in those accounts of art which speak of art being redemptive. As I think of the late, very late, Peter Fuller. Art here becomes almost the request to existence for the forgiveness of the original phantasy; not surprising that such an account of art becomes desperately moralistic. On the other hand, in a sense, the attraction of the Kleinian theory of sort of ur-damage is that it does have a purchase on the idea of making things as reworking, not only making things as reworking but also, in a sense, giving a place to the role of damage. Now, there’s certainly a problem in the Kleinian school in what, it seems to me, is their systematic confusion of destructiveness with aggression; Kleinians will always, you know, the moment you get nasty you’re thought to being destructive, whereas the Freudian position will always go a long way to carefully distinguish aggression from destructiveness. Nevertheless, having said, what Klein does put on the map, as it were, as part of the table of contents of the human mind is, as it were, the sense in which a human being not only damages, the sense in which a human being is not only damaged but the sense in which the human being is damage.”

Mark Cousins, Object—Shit; Damage Two, Architectural Association, Lon