Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Trilogies Of Obscene Beauty And Operatic Carnage

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) - Second Version of Triptych 1944, 1988

'I've always been very moved by pictures about slaughterhouses and meat, and to me that belong very much to the whole thing of the Crucifixion. There've been extraordinary photographs which have been done of animals just being taken up before they were slaughtered; and the smell of death. We don't know, of course, but it appears by these photographs that they're so aware of what is going to happen to them, they do everything to attempt to escape. I think these pictures were very much based on that kind of thing, which to me is very, very near this whole thing of the Crucifixion. I know for religious people, for Christians, the Crucifixion has a totally different significance. But as a non-believer, it was just an act of man's behaviour, a way of behaviour to another.' FB

'Well, of course, you're working then about you're own feelings and sensations, really. You might say it's almost nearer to a self portrait. You're working on all sorts of very primitive feelings about behaviour and about the way life is. . . . If you go to some of those great stores, where you just go through those great halls of death, you can see meat and fist and birds and everything else all lying dead there. And, of course, one has to remember as a painter that there is great beauty in the colour of meat.' FB

'Well, of course, we are meat, we are potential carcasses. If I go into a butcher's shop I always think it's surprising that I wasn't there instead of the animal.' FB

'Pity the meat! Meat is undoubtedly the chief object of Bacon's pity, his only object of pity, is Anglo-Irish pity. . . . Meat is not dead flesh; it retains the sufferings and assumes all the colourings of living flesh. It manifests such convulsive pain and vulnerability, but also such delightful invention, colour, and acrobatics. Bacon does not say, "Pity the beasts", but rather that every man who suffers is a piece of meat. Meat is the common zone of man and the beast, their zone of indiscernibility; it is a "fact", a state where the painter identifies with the objects of his horror and his compassion. The painter is certainly a butcher, but he goes to a butcher shop as if it were a church, with meat as the crucified victim.'

Gilles Deleuze

'Their anatomy was half-human, half-animal, and they were confined in a low-ceilinged, windowless and oddly proportioned space. They could bite, probe, and suck, and they had very long eel-like necks, but their functioning in other respects was mysterious. Ears and mouths they had, but two at least were sightless. One was bandaged. The left-hand figure had the hairstyle of a female jail-bird. At shoulder-level it had what might have been mutilated wing-stumps. An inch or two below these there was drawn tight what might have been either a shower curtain or a pair of outsized pajama trousers. Set down on what looked like a metal stool, the figure was trashing round as if to savage whatever came within biting distance. The central figure, anatomically somewhat like a dis-feathered ostrich, had a human mouth, heavily bandaged, set at the end of its long, thick tubular neck.

What that neck might have looked like without the bandage was indicated by the right-handed figure. It had big ears at the corner of its mouth, and was able to open that mouth to an angle of about ninety degrees. It's one visible leg was as much a sofa-leg as an animal leg, and the patch of grass on which it stood was nearer to a bed of nails than to the shaven lawns of Oxford and Cambridge.

Common to all three figures was a mindless voracity, an automatic unregulated gluttony, a ravening undifferentiated capacity for hatred. Each was if as cornered, and only waiting for the chance to drag the observer down to its own level.'

John Russell

'With hindsight, it is evident that the Crucifixion theme in Bacon's art evolved in several distinct stages. First, there are his early attempts to address the subject in largely abstract terms, with the aim of modernising it or giving it a contemporary twist. Second, there is the revolt against the motif, which is seen as nothing but a hollow convention: the figures rise up against it, repudiating it and categorically denying its authenticity. This is followed by a transitional phase in which the theme appears to have been abandoned; but in fact, it returns through the back door, in a different and disturbing guise. The crucified body is 'costumed' as a carcass, a piece of butcher's meat. Golgotha has moved to the abattoir.

In the fourth phase the Crucifixion theme is grafted onto the triptych form. This development is ushered in by Three studies for a Crucifixion, painted in 1962 at the end of an eighteen-year period when the triptych was effectively eliminated from Bacon's repertoire. From the mid-1960s onwards, the format was Bacon's most important vehicle of artistic expression: that he should abandon it again became quite unthinkable. At the same time, the theme of the Crucifixion began to recede into the background. It was as if the subject had dissolved into something more general, as a ground or premise underlying all the subsequent triptychs but no longer requiring explicit mention.'

Wieland Schmeid