I don't know why, I suddenly got the urge to look at some of the paintings of Francis Bacon, an eccentric artist who loved (?) to paint human figures twisted into the shape of monsters, with elongated necks, mouth open as if gasping for breath or crying out in excruciating pain, whose faces always appear to be split into two parts, one side more contorted than the other and which seems to have completely melted as if the heat of the the pain inside his emaciated limbs or torso had become so intense that it literally liquefied them like wax and whose bodies are often so twisted by pain that it had become little more than a pair of enormous hunched shoulder muscles. Was it because after the talk last night, we talked about how those in power in the world of commerce, industry and finance had been so completely dominated by their uncontrolled passion for good looking figures on their corporate balance sheets that they would stop at nothing in extracting the last ounce of energy from their employees whom they subject as a matter of routine to at least 10 hours of work and then fleecing them as consumers when they are off duty? The idea that the ordinary folks are human beings who need some time to be with their family and friends seem to have become as strange and incomprehensible to those captains of industry or financial market that such an idea might just as well have been a thought planted in their brain by some malignant demons bent on their instant destruction. Whatever the true reason might have been, I opened again my book on Francis Bacon and looked up photographs of his painting on the internet and those I took previously at the Art HK. No matter how many times I have looked at them, somehow they speak to me as powerfully as if I were looking at them for the first time.
We see the same melting of the clock in the painting of Dali. But the feeling is totally different with the human body.
The original Pope Innocent X by Velasquez and four versions of the pope by Bacon. He says,"Velazquez found the perfect balance between the ideal illustration which he was required to produce, and the overwhelming emotion he aroused in the spectator like so many artists before him. Why do four? He says, " I've got an obsession with doing the one perfect image...In the complicated stage in which painting is now, the moment there are several figures on the same canvas, the story begins to be elaborated. And the moment the story is elaborated, the boredom sets in. The story talks louder than the paint. This is because we are in very primitive times once again and we haven't been able to cancel out this story-telling between one image and another. "(1963)
Man and meat: Bacon and Pope?
The photo and Bacon's transformation. He says:"I’ve had photographs taken for portraits because I very much prefer working from the photographs than from models...I couldn’t attempt to do a portrait from photographs of somebody I didn’t know....If you want to convey fact, this can only ever be done through a form of distortion. You must distort to transform what is called appearance into image."
Bacon modelling himself on Donald Duck! He says: "Images also help me find and realize ideas. I look at hundreds of very different, contrasting images and I pinch details from them, rather like people who eat from other people’s plates."
Twisted faces: I loathe my own face, and I’ve done self-portraits because I’ve had nobody else to do
Let Francis Bacon speak for himself about how he felt and what's he tried to do :
Reason for Painting
1. Picasso is the reason why I paint. He is the father figure, who gave me the wish to paint.
Art Opens up Feelings
2. Art is a method of opening up areas of feeling rather than merely an illustration of an object. The object is necessary to provide the problem and all the discipline in the search of the problem's solution. A picture should be a re-creation of an event rather than an illustration of an object. Real imagination is technical imagination. It is the ways you think up to bring an event to life again. It is in the search for for the technique to trap the object at a given moment. Then the technique and the object become inseparable. The object is the technique and the technique the object. Art lies in the continual struggle to come near to the sensory side of of objects. (1952)
Painting merges images to Paint
3. 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 brushstroke creates the form and does not 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 continual struggle with chance--mysterious because of the 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 (1953) is pure intuition and luck and taking advantage of what happens when you splash the stuff down....The mystery lies in the irrationality by which you make appearance - if it is not irrational, you make illustration....The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery
Element of Accident in all Painting
4. All painting is an accident. But it’s also not an accident, because one must select what part of the accident one chooses to preserve...in my case all painting, and the older I get, the more it becomes so--is an accident. I foresee it and yet I hardly ever carry it out as I foresee it. It transforms itself by the actual paint. I don't in fact know very often what the paint will do, and it does many things which are very much better than I could make it do. Perhaps one could say it's not an accident, because it becomes a selective process what part of the accident one chooses to preserve... The way I work now, is accidental and more accidental. How can I re-create an accident? Another accident would never be quite the same. This is the thing that can only probably happen in oil paint, because it is so subtle that one tone, one piece of paint, that moves one thing into another completely changes the implications of the image...Can you analyze the difference, in fact, between paint which conveys directly and, and paint which conveys through illustration? It's a very close and difficult thing to know why some paint comes across so directly on to the nervous system and other paint tells you the story through a long diatribe through the brain. (1963)
Difference between Illustrative and Non-illustrative Painting
5. An illustrational form tells you through the intelligence immediately what the form is about, whereas a non-illustrational form works first upon sensation and then slowly leaks back into the fact.
Passions and Despair source of Painting
6. I feel ever so strongly that an artist must be nourished by his passions and his despairs. These things alter an artist whether for the good or the better or the worse. It must alter him. The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment, because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility."
Bacon, Francis."Quoted." in: Gruen, John. The Artist Observed: 28 interviews with contemporary artists. A Cappella Books. 1991.
Painting and Abstract Painting
7. Painting is a duality and abstract painting is an entirely aesthetic thing. It always remains on one level. It is only really interesting in the beauty of its patterns or its shapes.
8. You want accuracy, but not representation. If you know how to make the figuration, it doesn’t work. Anything you can make, you make by accident. In painting, you have to know what you do, not how, when you do it....I want a very ordered image, but I want it to come about by chance....I believe in deeply ordered chaos.
Photography Changes the Role of Painting
9. One thing which has never been really worked out is how photography has completely altered figurative painting. I think Velasquez believed that he was recording the court at that time and certain people at that time. But a all good artist today would be forced to make a game out of the same situation. He knows that particular things could be recorded on film, so this side of his activity has been taken over by something else. Also, man now realizes that he is an accident, that is he is a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game without reason. I think that when Velasquez was painting, even when Rembrandt was painting, they were still, whatever their attitude to life, slightly conditioned by certain types of religious possibilities, which man now, you could say, has had cancelled out for him. Man now can only attempt to beguile himself, for a time, by prolonging his life--by buying a kind of immortality through the doctors. You see, painting has now become, or all art has now become completely a game, by which man distracts himself. And you may say it has always been like that, but now it's entirely a game. What is fascinating actually is, that it’s going to become much more difficult for the artists, because he must really deepen the game to become any good at all, so that he can make life a bit more exciting..." (1963)
Human Figures as Snails
10. 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. I think the whole process of this sort of elliptical form is dependent on the execution of detail and how shapes are remade or put slightly out of focus to bring in their memory traces. (1955)
Good Artists Tear Down veils of Ideas
11. Ideas always acquire appearance veils, the attitudes that people acquire of their time and earlier time. Really good artists tear down those veils....I would like, in my arbitrary way, to bring one nearer to the actual human being....If my people look as if they in a dreadful fix, it’s because I can’t get them out of a technical dilemma.
All Actions colored by the Heart
12. All of our actions take their hue from the complexion of the heart, as landscapes their variety from light.
Image Changes During the Painting Process
13. Before I start painting I have a slightly ambiguous feeling: happiness is a special excitement because unhappiness is always possible a moment later ...As you work, the mood grows on you. There are certain images which suddenly get hold of me and I really want to do them. But it’s true to say that they excitement and possibilities are in the working and obviously can only come in the working...One always starts work with the subject, no matter how tenuous it is, and one constructs an artificial structure by which one can trap the reality of the subject-matter that one has started from.
Painting by Instincts not by Ideas
14. I want to make portraits and images. I don’t know how. Out of despair, I just use paint anyway. Suddenly the things you make coagulate and take on just the shape you intend. Totally accurate marks, which are outside representational marks....I have to hope that my instincts will do the right thing, because I can’t erase what I have done. And if I drew something first, then my paintings would be illustrations of drawings .
Painting Not Expression of Artist's Mood
15. Very few people have a natural feeling for painting, and so, of course they naturally think that painting is an expression of the artist’s mood. But it rarely is. Very often he may be in greatest despair and be painting his happiest paintings.
Creative Process Coctail of instinct, skill, culture and creative Fever
16. 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.
Painting is Projection of His own Nervous System on Canvas
17. You could say that I have no inspiration, that I only need to paint....We only have our nervous system to paint....Painting is the pattern of one’s own nervous system being projected on canvas....I’m just trying to make images as accurately as possible off my nervous system as I can. ..I paint for myself. I don’t know how to do anything else, anyway. Also I have to earn my living, and occupy myself.
Painting to Excite himself with everyday objects
18. I use all sorts of things to work with : old brooms, old sweaters, and all kinds of peculiar tools and materials...I paint to excite myself, and make something for myself
Useless to Talk About Painting
19. It’s always hopeless to talk about painting - one never does anything but talk around it....If you can talk about it, why paint it?
Painting is rare, curious and should be completely isolated: Only time will Tell if it's good
20. I don’t believe art is available; it’s rare and curious and should be completely isolated; one is more aware of its magic the more it is isolated....I should have been, I don’t know, a con-man, a robber or a prostitute. But it was vanity that made me choose painting, vanity and chanc...All artists are vain, they long to be recognized and to leave something to posterity. They want to be loved, and at the same time they want to be free. But nobody is free. ....Some artists leave remarkable thing which, a hundred years later, don’t work at all. I have left my mark; my work is hung in museums, but maybe one day the Tate Gallery or the other museums will banish me to the cellar... you never know.....No artist knows in his own lifetime whether what he does will be the slightest good, because it takes at least seventy-five to a hundred years before the thing begins to sort itself out.
Great Art Always instinctively concentrates and reinvents Facts
21. Great art is always a way of concentrating, reinventing what is called fact, what we know of our existence - a reconcentration... tearing away the veils that fact acquires through time....Great art is deeply ordered. Even if within the order there may be enormously instinctive and accidental things, nevertheless they come out of a desire for ordering and for returning fact onto the nervous system in a more violent way.
Below is is part of Francis Bacon's last interview by his friend Francis Giacobetti done between September 1991 and February 1992 and published in The Art Newspaper, no. 137, June 2003. He died later the same year
Violence is Inherent in Nature and Human Nature
FG: Your painting is often described as violent…
Bacon: My painting is not violent; it’s life that is violent. I have endured physical violence, I have even had my teeth broken. Sexuality, human emotion, everyday life, personal humiliation (you only have to watch television)―violence is part of human nature. Even within the most beautiful landscape, in trees, under the leaves the insects are eating each other; violence is part of life.
In the excerpts published by The Art Newspaper, Francis Bacon goes on to discuss flesh, meat and screaming:
Meaning of Flesh
FG: What does flesh represent to you?
B: Flesh and meat are life! If I paint red meat as I paint bodies it is just because I find it very beautiful. I don’t think anyone has ever really understood that. Ham, pigs, tongues, sides, of beef seen in the butcher’s window, all that death, I find it very beautiful. And it’s all for sale―how unbelievably surrealistic! [...]
The Scream his Obsession
FG: The scream?
B: We are born with a scream; we come into life with a scream, and maybe love is a mosquito net between the fear of living and the fear of death. That was one of my real obsessions. The men I painted were all in extreme situation, and the scream is a transcription of their pain. Animals scream when they are frightened or in pain, so do children. But men are more discreet and more inhibited. They do not cry or scream except in situations of extreme pain. We come into this world with a scream and we often also die with a scream. Perhaps the scream is the most direct symbol of the human condition.
In the excerpts published by The Independent Magazine, one can find a similar observation:
It's a Violent World
FG: What is your vision of the world?
B : Since the beginning of time, we have had countless examples of human violence even in our very civilised century. We have even created bombs capable of blowing up the planet a thousand times over. An artist instinctively takes all this into account. He can’t do otherwise. I am a painter of the 20th century: during my childhood I lived through the revolutionary Irish movement, Sinn Fein, and the wars, Hiroshima, Hitler, the death camps, and daily violence that I’ve experienced all my life. And after all that they want me to paint bunches of pink flowers…But that’s not my thing. The only things that interest me are people, their folly, their ways, their anguish, this unbelievable, purely accidental intelligence which has shattered the planet, and which maybe, one day, will destroy it. I am not a pessimist. My temperament is strangely optimistic. But I am lucid.
To Gilles Deleuze, who wrote an entire book on Francis Bacon (1981), there is in Bacon's painting a power more profound than the lived body and almost "unlivable" and if Bacon is a painter of his sensations, he is a painter of the organized and non-organic sensations of what he calls 'the body without organs", a force which which is pre-rational, a-logical and a-pictorial and which seeks to give itself a form in the very process of his painting the relevant painting itself, a force which seeks to give his sensation a form appropriate to itself own rhythms but not a force which is transcendent, external to the force which gives rise to it eg. something which a Freudian analyst might wish to superimpose upon his paintings by referring it to something outside of the painting itself like referring to what Freud thinks might be a universal force in the generalized human psyche because to Deleuze, that force is immanent within the painting itself and is a force which can only materialize itself in a concrete, specific and particular form ie the form of the relevant paintings themselves, the silent "cry" by which the body wishes to express its pain through contorting the entire body into the form of its "mouth" , as in the expression crying one's heart out. That force seeks to pass between his body into the uniform tones of the "background" to the relevant human figure in his paintings, as if his sensation of pain were so powerful that it literally transforms the human figure into something inhuman, something which is no longer personal nor even recognizably human, as if his whole body had become an indifferent and chaotic mass of pain trying to escape from such pain through his mouth. Francis Bacon's painting thus appears to be an attempt to paint and thus render visible what is otherwise invisible, what is indescribable, something which somehow can only find its own form in the actual paintings that he does. In that sense, perhaps he is trying to paint what Kant describes as the sublime, something which the human reason finds totally incapable of comprehending because it is is so huge, so powerful, so huge and so beyond its further limits of comprehension because it is something which so overwhelms his normal senses.