Bacon, Francis

Bacon, Francis
  ---- by John Marks
  Deleuze's aim in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, as with all his other works on art, is to produce philosophical concepts that correspond to the 'sensible aggregates' that the artist has produced. The 'logic of sensation' that Deleuze constructs shows how Francis Bacon uses 'Figures' to paint sensations that aim to act directly on the nervous system. 'Sensation', here, refers to a pre-individual, impersonal plane of intensities. It is also, Deleuze claims, the opposite of the facile or the clichés of representation. It is at one and the same time the human subject and also the impersonal event. It is directed towards the sensible rather than the intelligible.
  In developing the use of the 'Figure', Bacon pursues a middle path between the abstract and the figural, between the purely optical spaces of abstract art and the purely 'manual' spaces of abstract expressionism. The 'Figure' retains elements that are recognisably human; it is not a representational form, but rather an attempt to paint forces. For Deleuze, the vocation of all non-representational art is to make visible forces that would otherwise remain invisible. It is for this reason that Bacon's figures appear to be deformed or contorted, sometimes passing through objects such as washbasins or umbrellas: the body seeks to escape from itself. There are even some paintings in which the 'Figure' is little more than a shadow within a 'scrambled whole', as if it has been replaced entirely by forces. In short, Bacon's paintings can be considered as an artistic expression of Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the Body without Organs.
  Generally in his work, Deleuze seeks to contradict the received wisdom that artists such as Bacon or Franz Kafka are in some way expressing a deep terror of life in their art. For this reason, he is at pains to point out that Bacon has a great love of life, and that his painting evinces an extraordinary vitality. Bacon is optimistic to the extent that he 'believes' in the world, but it is a very particular sort of optimism. Bacon himself says that he is cerebrally pessimistic - in that he paints the horrors of the world but at the same time nervously optimistic. Bacon's work may be imbued with all sorts of violence, but he manages to paint the 'scream' and not the 'horror' - the violence of the sensation rather than the violence of the spectacle - and he reproaches himself when he feels that he has painted too much horror. The forces that cause the scream should not be confused with the visible spectacle before which one screams. The scream captures invisible forces, which cannot be represented, because they lie beyond pain and feeling. So, cerebrally, this may lead to pessimism, since these invisible forces are even more overwhelming than the worst spectacle that can be represented. However, Deleuze claims that, in making the decision to paint the scream, Bacon is like a wrestler confronting the 'powers of the invisible', establishing a combat that was not previously possible. He makes the active decision to affirm the possibility of triumphing over these forces. He allows life to scream at death, by confronting terror, and entering into combat with it, rather than representing it. The 'spectacle' of violence, on the other hand, allows these forces to remain invisible, and diverts us, rendering us passive before this horror.
  Deleuze talks at some length about the importance of 'meat' in Bacon's paintings. For Deleuze, Bacon is a great painter of 'heads' rather than 'faces'. Bacon seeks to dismantle the structured spatial organisation of the face in order to make the head emerge. Similarly, Bacon sometimes makes a shadow emerge from the body as if it were an animal that the body was sheltering. In this way, Bacon produces a zone of indiscernibility. The bones are the spatial organisation of the body, but the flesh in Bacon's paintings ceases to be supported by the bones. Deleuze remarks upon Bacon's preference for 'Figures' with raised limbs, from which the drowsy flesh seems to descend. This flesh, or meat, constitutes the zone of indiscernibility between man and animal. The head, then, constitutes what Deleuze calls the 'animal spirit' of man. Bacon does not ask us to pity the fate of animals (although this could well be one effect of his paintings), but rather to recognise that every human being who suffers is a piece of meat. In short, the man that suffers is an animal, and the animal that suffers is a man. Deleuze talks of this in terms of a 'religious' aspect in Bacon's paintings, but a religious dimension that relates to the brutal reality of the butcher's shop. The understanding that we are all meat is not a moment of recognition or of revelation, but rather, for Deleuze, a moment of true becoming. The separation between the spectator and the spectacle is broken down in favour of the 'deep identity' of becoming.
   § art
   § becoming
   § intensity
   § sensation

The Deleuze Dictionary. Revised Edition. . 2015.

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