Monday, December 29, 2008

Human Meat, History Books

TLS December 5 2008

from Alan Jenkins' review of Francis Bacon at Tate Britain:

Yet, as John Russell pointed out nearly thirty years ago, "perhaps the most persistent of Bacon's preoccupations is the problem of what a man is to do when he is alone in a room" . . .

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Bacon would sometimes, to achieve the desired "thickness", model his single figure on a sequence of photographs from Eadweard Muybridge's The Human Body in Motion that showed two men wrestling--though at a glance, they could be having sex. . . . Then, once he had begun to show two or more people, the coupling--as in those earlier exceptions--becomes explicit.

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In her catalogue essay Victoria Walsh cites Foundations of Modern Art by Amédée Ozenfant (1931) as having perhaps fertilized the insatiably curious young painter's imagination in ways that would lie dormant for years: "The search for intensity dominates the whole of modern painting. There can be no intensity without simplification, and to some degree, no intensity without distortion . . . of what is seen naturally".

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. . . "Figure Study II" is the work in which another of Bacon's motifs--or obsession--unequivocally makes an entrance: the gaping mouth, open in a scream of terror, a snarl of hatred or a howl of impotent rage. Indelibly fixed in Bacon's imaginary by Picture Post shots of Goebbels and Mussolini haranguing the crowds, Poussin's "Massacre of the Innocents: and the nurse's silent scream in The Battleship Potemkin, in "Figure Study II", where it is appended to a crouched or kneeling half-clothed form, the mouth powerfully subverts those reliable signifiers of bourgeois respectability, umbrealla, herringbone tweed and potted plants.

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But he also spoke repeatedly of his desire to make paintings that would "return [the viewer] more violently to life", by which he meant, as I understand it, shock that viewer out of habitual or self-protective ignorance and into awareness of his own physical reality.

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As with Eliot in poetry, Bacon's art sinks deep roots into the whole psycho-physical life and attempts a reinvention of tradition ("the figurative thing") . . . .


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from John Barnard's review of David Pearson's Books As History:

"The death of the book" is a topic which has attracted strongly emotional responses for and against ever since Marshall McLuhan predicted it in 1962.

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We have to cease to regard books as valuable because they are carriers of texts. They should be valued instead as part of our national cultural heritage, since printed books, unlike digital texts, bear the physical evidence of ther own past history and intended meanings.


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