Deleuze describes Bacon’s painting as violent – his painting is of a very special kind of violence. This violence is not ementaing from the subject matter of his paintings: spectacles of horror, crucifixions, prostheses and mutilations. Violence is correlated with colour and line – and described as a sensation. Maybe a texture of violence is an appropriate rewording. Sensation over representation: ‘a static or potential violence, a violence of reaction and expression’. This aesthetic outline appeals to me as it is a step away from the singular dimension of representation and identity politics. Deleuze is establishing a discussion with parameters set outside the norm of linguistic deconstruction and image analysis.
Bacon’s paintings are a ‘relationship not of form and matter, but of materials and forces.’ There is a foreboding of these invisible forces. This language reminds of a childhood nightmare I had: a recurring nightmare in which I would stand at the bottom of a large, spiral staircase in terror, fearful of what was at the top of the stairs. Voices would emerge from a multitude of directions, from adjacent rooms and hallways and I would be compelled to wander up the stairs almost against my will and the terror and fear would exponentially exaggerate until I woke up. In this nightmare was a forebording of the invisible and a force of inertia that carried me up the stairs. Deleuze describes a force of inertia in Bacon’s paintings. The figures and and the bodies are being carried somewhere – the flesh hangs and is shaken from the body. Bacon’s art is an art of materials and forces. It makes unseen forces visible. THere is a concern with time – or a temporal element built into the images. Movement contrasts with stasis. Things fall, stretch, are pulled and pushed. Movement is an affect – something that happens to an immobile body. Deleuze points out here that the violence is tied up therefore wit ha sense of pity and pathos. Flesh and the movement of flesh (decay / violence) is an essential life element.
“The entire body becomes plexus”
1: a network of anastomosing or interlacing blood vessels or nerves
2: an interwoven combination of parts or elements in a structure or system
The next element of Bacon’s aesthetic for discussion is colour. Bacon’s fields of colour are without depth or consist only of shallow depth. The figure detaches itself from the colour field – the figure ‘executes .. taunting acrobatics’. These two pictorial elements draw life from one another – they are not indifferent. Colour is related to many different systems in Bacon’s work. It corresponds to the figure/flesh and to the colour field/section. Deleuze cites Cezanne and describes two problems of painting: “how, on the one hand, to preserve the homogeneity or unity of the background as though it were a perpendicular armature for chromatic progression, while on the other hand also preserving the specificity or singularity of a form in perpetual variation?” This set of problems needs some unpacking.
Armature : an organ or structure (such as teeth or thorns) for offense or defense
The first problem is a problem of painting realism: the background must appear as unified as human visual perception of the world unified (is coherent – the spectre of colours are all relatable). However, the world (both in reality and in perception) is perpetually varied. To depict the figure/form, this variation needs to be built in to the colour and composition. The second problem is a problem of painting flesh. For the first problem, Bacon took the path of not representing life through variations in hue, but rather through subtle shifts in intensity or saturation determined by zones of proximity. These zones are induced by sections of fields of colour. The problem of painting flesh is resolved by producing broken tones; ‘as though baked in a furnace and flayed by fire.’
Bacon’s genius according to Deleuze lies in the coexistence of these two aspects:
“… a brilliant pure tone for the large fields, coupled with a program of intensification; broken tones for the flesh, coupled with a procedure of rupturing or ‘fire blasting,’ a critical mixture of complementaries.”
Deleuze next introduces the importance of the triptych. The triptych typically presents three distinct sections that negate any narrative that would establish itself amongst them. For Bacon, the sections are simultaneously linked by a unifying distribution (distribution of colour and field?) that makes them interrelate in a way that is free of any symbolic undercurrent. It is important to note that according to Deleuze Bacon is not a symbolist, expressionist, realist or a cubist – he fits no genre. All that we need going forward is to understand that Bacon has broken with figuartion by elevating the Figure to prominence.
The following blog posts on this topic will seek to understand Deleuze’s ideas on Bacon. I will be looking for ways in which these ideas might intersect with my broader research around photogenie.