23 Feb 2010

Timeless Rhythm [61] Triptych, Studies from the Human Body, 1970. Deleuze on Bacon, Painting Series

by Corry Shores
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[I am profoundly grateful to the sources of these images:
Editions de la différence
. Credits given at the end.]

[The following is quotation. My commentary is bracketed in red.]

Timeless Rhythm

Editions de la différence and the Estate of Francis Bacon)

Francis Bacon

Triptych, Studies from the Human Body, 1970

Painting 17 of Deleuze's
Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Tome II - Peintures
Painting [61] of the English translation
and Painting [2] of the Seuil 2002 French

A round area often delimits the place where the person - that is to say, the Figure - is seated, lying down, doubled over, or in some other position. This round or oval area takes up more or less space: it can extend beyond the edges of the painting [64, 37] or occupy the center of a triptych [60, 61] (Deleuze 2003: 1bc)

Un rond délimite souvent le lieu où est assis le personnage, c'est-à-dire la Figure. Assis, couché, penché ou autre chose. Ce rond, ou cet ovale, tient plus ou moins de place : il peut déborder les côtés du tableau [22, 30], être au centre d'un triptyque, etc. [1, 2]. (Deleuze 2002: 13-14)

[Deleuze notices that Bacon's figures are usually constricted by a surrounding shape, often a circular one. In this case, the round area enclosing the coupled figures of the central triptych is found within the bounds of the canvass, rather than extending beyond them as in other paintings. The enclosure compresses the internal figures, which twist-and-contort under the pressure. They spasm in such a way as to suggest they exert and outward force, in their efforts to escape the constriction. These wrestling motions, inward-and-outward, produce a rhythm of motion (which we might detect in the in-and-out movements of our eyes), which Deleuze considers to be like the hearts pumping.]

(Again, thanks
Editions de la différence and the Estate of Francis Bacon)

The purest pictorial situation doubtless appears when the field is neither sectioned off, nor limited, nor even interrupted, but covers the entire painting, sometimes encompassing a mid-sized contour (for example, the orange field that encompasses a green bed in the 1970 Studies of the Human Body [62 [[sic: 61]] ]), sometimes even surrounding a small contour on all sides (the center panel of the 1970 triptych [61 [[sic: 62]] ]). Under these conditions, the painting becomes truly aerial, and attains a maximal light like the eternity of a monochrome time, "Chronochromie" (Deleuze 2003: 103-104, emphasis mine)

La situation picturale la plus pure, sans doute, apparaît lorsque l'aplat n'est ni sectionné, ni limité, ni même interrompu, mais couvre l'ensemble du tableau, et soit enserre un contour moyen (par exemple le lit vert enserré par l'aplat orange dans les « Études du corps humain » de 1970) [2], soit même cerne de toutes parts un petit contour (au centre du triptyque de 1970) [3]: en effet, c'est dans ces conditions que le tableau devient vraiment aérien, et atteint à un maximum de lumière comme à l'éternité d'un temps monochrome, « Chromochronie » (Deleuze 2002: 139d, emphasis mine)

[Often in Bacon's work, the contour-shape encompassing the figures is surrounded by a single-colored (monochromatic) field. This causes the figure and its contour-shape to appear as though they hover in mid-air. In the center triptych, we see the orange field that envelops the green bed.

(Again, thanks
Editions de la différence and the Estate of Francis Bacon)

There is a temporal dimension to our experience of these fields. Our eyes will jump from figure-to-figure, leaping over the monochromatic expanses. If we were to peer out into the world and see such a field, we would think that it goes on-and-on forever, as though it would take an eternity to cross from one figure to the next. There are no points of orientation in these backgrounds. And the figures are found in separate panels, without there being any sort of story to link them. So when our eyes move from one figure to another, we do so in an instant. But our eyes feel as though they are passing to something that lives quite far away in a very distant time. We jump from one temporality to the next, passing through the blank field. What happens to time when our eyes are between figures? They are not in time. We do not experience time. We enter the eternal. In a way, we cross through a great expanse in which time does not pass. But in another way, our eyes move from one part of the museum wall to another part that lies nearby. So we obtain an impression that an infinite change has transpired, but that immense change is compressed into a small finite extent. It is a distance that does not extend outward in extensive space, but a depth that falls inward into an intensives space, in a sense. Bacon's paintings give us two sorts of disfigured temporalities. When we see the figures, we cannot put together what we see. This disrupts the way we constitute objects phenomenologically. We cannot connect what we see now with what we just saw. Each instant we are in a completely new world utterly foreign and disconnected from the prior ones. But without any sort of consistency or coherence between the instants when we see the figures, there is no way for us to blend the moments together into an extending length of duration. What we experience instead is one difference piled upon another. They do not synthesize into a block of time. They are contracted into an experience that has not yet obtained temporal characteristics. Often when we have intense experiences, we walk away thinking that maybe the experience happened all at once, or maybe even it seemed like a life-time. However it seemed, we know that moments of time did not fall together as they normally do. A full experience of Bacon's figures will likewise be too intense and sensational for us to constitute a flow of time all the while. But another component of this preclusion of time is the eternal expanse that lies between the figures. While viewing the figures, we are not constituting time, because there is too much irregularity for us to blend instants together. But when jumping across the infinite monochromatic fields, we might do so during an extent of time, but each instant seems to have an infinite temporal intensive depth to it. In the case of the figures, time never begins to become constituted. But in the case of the infinite fields, time's constitution is suspended in air, postponed for another reason, held-back not because there is too much inconsistency, but because the consistency is so profound but contracted into such a small actual extent. In each actual moment of our eyes moving between painting-frames, there is a virtual plummet of time into an infinite abyss.]

Coupled figures have always been a part of Bacon's work, but they do not tell a story [60, 61, 66]. (Deleuze 2003: 2d)

Bacon n'a pas cessé de faire des Figures accouplées, qui ne racontent aucune histoire [1, 2, 53]. (Deleuze 2002: 12d)

There is one Figure common to two bodies, or one "fact" common to two Figures, without the slightest story being narrated [12, 17, 60, 61]. (Deleuze 2003: 46-47)

Il y a une Figure commune des deux corps, ou un « fait » commun des deux Figures, sans la moindre histoire à raconter [41, 17, 14 [[sic: 1]], 2]. (Deleuze 2002: 65-66)

[a flattening force] can be executed in several prone or coupled bodies, following a horizontal diagram as in the two pairs of sleepers in the right and left panels of Sweeney Agonistes [46], or in the two sleepers in the central panels of the 1970 triptychs [60, 61]. (Deleuze 2003: 54c)

[la force d'aplatissement] par plusieurs corps couchés, accouplés, suivent un diagramme horizontal, comme les deux fois deux couchés de « Sweeney Agonistes »[61], à droite et à gauche, ou les deux couchés des panneaux centraux des triptyques de 1970 [1, 2]. (Deleuze 2002: 74d)

[As we noted, the figures in the center panel are 'coupled'. Each one on its own affects us in ways that continue to vary the more we view it. It is like a 'wave' of affection. Bacon then couples the two figures, mixes them together as if the meat of their bodies were loosening from their bones so to wrestle with each other by means of spasms and contortions. But consider if the two figures were brought together in a way that we can make-sense-of by means of some story which might explain their relations. Then, their different waves of affection might synthesize and even harmonize; we would feel them both at the same time, and those feelings would blend together into a more complex feeling. But Bacon does not allow such a synthesis to take place. Before the figures find solid formation, he scrambles them by means of some chance-based technique like randomly spattering or smearing the paint. These disfigurations suggest new directions and dimensions for developing the painting. Bacon reads the distorted markings as though they were lines on a graph or diagram. But it is not a diagram like the ones we draw in a homogenized space. Rather, it distorts the time and space of the painting, so that one figure bends into different spatial and temporal positions all in an instant. This is how Bacon paints a 'motion picture' of sorts: the figure or figures are virtually in many times and places all at once, which animates them before our eyes, even though they are static images.

So here are the coupled figures.

(Again, thanks
Editions de la différence and the Estate of Francis Bacon)

It is possible that the 'horizontal diagram' can be found somewhere in this region:

(Again, thanks
Editions de la différence and the Estate of Francis Bacon)

So, they were mixed by random means and developed into divergent and incompatible dimensions and directions. For this reason, there is no story to explain how they relate. We experience both waves of affection together, while neither synthesizes with the other. They present to us one fact or state of affairs, which is made-up of an irreducible multiplicity.]

we can see that there are many explicit attendants in the triptychs: [...] the observer on the left and the photographer on the right [61]; (Deleuze 2003: 53bc;c)

Nous voyons d'abord qu'il y a beaucoup de témoins explicites dans les triptyques: [...] 1970, l'observateur de gauche et le photographe de droite ; (Deleuze 2002: 73b;bc)

in a triptych of 1970 [61], we can compare the visible attendant on the left and the one on the right. (Deleuze 2003: 55bc)

dans un triptyque de 1970, le témoin apparent de gauche et celui de droite. (Deleuze 2003: 75cd)

Occasionally he is content to paint something that functions as a photograph in relation to the Figure, and thus plays the role of an attendant; or else, twice, to paint a camera that sometimes resembles a prehistoric beast, sometimes a heavy rifle (like Marey's rifle, which decomposed movement) [61, 74]. (Deleuze 2003: 65b)

Il se contente de peindre parfois quelque chose qui fonctionne comme photo par rapport à la Figure, et qui a dès lors un rôle de témoin ; ou bien, par deux fois, de peindre un appareil photographique qui ressemble tantôt à une bête préhistorique, tantôt à un lourd fusil (tel le fusil à décomposer le mouvement, de Marey). (Deleuze 2003: 87-88)

[Deleuze applies some of Messiaen's concepts to Bacon's triptychs to help characterize their rhythms. Recall Messiaen's rhythmic characters (personnages rythmiques). We will here just deal with his theatre analogy. One person acts brutally toward another. The acting one is active, the receiving one is passive. All the while, another person watches. She is the attendant or observer. Messiaen creates rhythms that evoke these sorts of relations. Deleuze says that Bacon's figures do too. One level of this rhythm is the rhythm of each figure changing roles: sometimes one is passive, other times that same one is attendant, and still other times it is active. So there is a rhythmic circulation of the roles. Deleuze says that the other active-passive rhythms can take on a variety of opposing relations. For this painting, Deleuze draws our attention primarily to the attendant figures.

As we mentioned, the figures rotate their roles. Deleuze observes that there are explicit observers in this painting.

The first one peers-out at the other figure in the left panel.

(Again, thanks
Editions de la différence and the Estate of Francis Bacon)

The other is a photographer in the right panel.

Although they are obviously observers, they will also take-on the other roles as well, depending on how the three figures are relating to each other in a given moment of our experiencing them.]

(Again, thanks
Editions de la différence and the Estate of Francis Bacon)

Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Transl. Daniel W. Smith. London/New York: Continuum, 2003.

Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Paris: Seuil, 2002.

Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Tome II - Peintures. Paris: Editions de la différence [Littératures], 1981.

Images obtained gratefully from:
Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Tome II - Peintures. Paris: Editions de la différence [Littératures], 1981.


  1. The left hand-most figure in the triptych was later revisited in 1988 with the title Study of a Man and Woman Walking. You can see it at the website of the Francis Bacon Estate:


  2. Be that as it may, on the grounds that they have worked for those organizations, they probably won't work for you. This is on the grounds that the group of onlookers hopes to picture another thing, as opposed to a similar old styles. logo design service