Saturday, June 14, 2008

David Sylvester's "Looking back at Francis Bacon"

In this book Sylvester reviews Bacon's painting more or less chronologically, but also organizes his discussion into themes: a late starter, a trail of the human presence, a state of unease, all the pulsations of a person, images in series, an escape from emotion, a picture but not a picture. Many sharp insights into the paintings, generously reproduced in the book. One I liked especially is that Bacon's heads are inspired by Picasso, his bodies by Matisse. Bacon preferred Picasso to Matisse because the former exhibits "the brutality of fact."

After "Review," the section "Reflections" meditates, in short prose pieces, on different aspects of Bacon's art, such as "The painter as medium," "Bacon and poetry," "Bacon and Giocometti," "Bacon's secret vice," and "Images of the human body." The third section "Fragments of Talk" gathers together snippets of interviews and conversations Sylvester had with Bacon.

Bacon in his own words:

I think that the very great artists were not trying to express themselves. They were trying to trap the fact, because, after all, artists are obsessed by life and by certain things that obsess them that they want to record. And they've tried to find systems and construct the cages in which these things can be caught.

I think that great art is deeply ordered. Even if within the order there may be enormously instinctive and accidental things, nevertheless I think that they come out of a desire for ordering and for returning fact onto the nervous system in a more violent way.

You see, 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 now is that it's going to become much more difficult for the artists, because he must really deepen the game to be any good at all.

Triptych, May–June 1973
Francis Bacon, 1973
Oil on canvas
198 × 147.5 cm, 78 × 58.1 in

Milan Kundera: "One day the veil falls and we are left stranded with the body, at the body's mercy... reduced to our fear, like in 'Triptych 1973' by Francis Bacon. And if some-one was presiding invisibly over that little horror scene, it was no apparatchik, or executioner, it was a God - or an anti-God, a Demiurge, a Creator, the one who had trapped us for ever by that 'accident' of the body he cobbled together in his workshop and of which, for a while, we are forced to become the soul."

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