24 Feb 2010

Circles Eternal [62] Triptych, Studies of the Human Body, 1970. Deleuze on Bacon, Painting Series

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

Circles Eternal

Francis Bacon

Triptych, Studies of the Human Body, 1970

Painting 22 of Deleuze's
Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Tome II - Peintures
Painting [62] of the English translation
and Painting [3] of the Seuil 2002 French

There are other techniques of isolation: putting the Figure inside a cube, or rather, inside a parallelepiped of glass or ice [6, 55]; sticking it onto a rail or a stretch-out bar, as if on the magnetic arc of an infinite circle [62] (Deleuze 2003: 1d)

Il y a d'autres procédés d'isolation : mettre la Figure dans un cube, ou plutôt dans un parallélépipède de verre ou de glace [29, 19] ; la coller sur un rail, sur une barre étirée, comme sur l'arc magnétique d'un cercle infini [3]. (Deleuze 2002: 11bc.c)

Sometimes again, the field is interrupted only by a thin white bar that crosses it completely, as in the three faces of the beautiful rose-colored Triptych of 1970 [62]; and this is also the case, partially, in the Figure at a Washbasin [80], where the field is crossed by a white bar, subordinating it to the contour. (103c)

Tantôt encore, l'aplat est seulement interrompu par une mince barre blanche, qui le traverse tout entier, comme sur les trois vaces du très beau triptyque rose de 1970 ; et c'est aussi le cas, partiellement, de l'Homme au lavabo dont l'aplat ocre est traversé par une barre blance comme dépendance du contour. (139c).

Coupled figures have always been a part of Bacon's work, but they do not tell a story [60, 61, 66]. Moreover, there is a relationship of great intensity between the separate panels of a triptych, although this relationship has nothing narrative about it [55, 62, 38]. (Deleuze 2003: 2d)
Bacon n'a pas cessé de faire des Figures accouplées, qui ne racontent aucune histoire [1, 2, 53]. Bien plus les panneaux séparés d'un triptyque ont un rapport intense entre eux, quoique ce rapport n'ait rien de narratif [19, 3, 25] (Deleuze 2002: 12d)

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)

[Bacon uses a variety of means to isolate his figures. In this case, he uses a rail of sorts.

In many other cases, the figure is enclosed by some shape. Here the figures on the outer panels seem free from any constricting force. Now, also note that the rail serves to suggest a connection between the paintings.

Already we feel the tendency to associate and relate the figures as if a story could explain their relations to each other. Yet what we discover instead is that the figures seem entirely independent of each other, as if each lived in its own world, or as if there is an immense gap of time and space between them. Yet our eyes move only a small distance in a short amount of time when we go from one figure to the next. Because an immensity of virtual time and space (implicit in the painting's monochromatic field) is packed into those relatively tiny actual times and spaces (of our eye-movements), we feel as though there is something more in the space. There is distance, but not extensive distance. We might think of it falling into another dimension, that there is abysmal depth between them. This sort of spatiality would be intensive rather than extensive.]

In Studies of the Human Body (1970) [62] and Triptych, May-June 1974 [75], the green umbrella is treated more like a surface, but the crouching Figure uses it all at once as a pendulum, a parachute, a vacuum cleaner, and a nozzle, through which the entire contracted body wants to pass, and which has already grabbed hold of the head. (Deleuze 2003: 12d)

Dans les « Études du corps humain » de 1970 et dans le « Triptyque mai-juin 1974 » le parapluie vert bouteille est traité beaucoup plus en surface, mais la Figure accroupie s'en sert à la fois comme d'un balancier, d'un parachute, d'un aspirateur, d'une ventouse, dans laquelle tout le corps contracté veut passer, et la tête déjà happée (Deleuze 2002: 24d)

it is the relations between Figures which are violently projected onto the field, and are now governed by the uniform color or the naked light; so that, in many cases [60, 62], the Figures look like trapeze artists whose milieu is no longer anything but light and color. (Deleuze 2003: 59c)

ce sont les rapports entre Figures qui se trouvent violemment projetés sur l'aplat, pris en charge par la couleur uniforme ou par la lumière crue ; si bien que, dans beaucoup de cas, les Figures ressemblent à des trapézistes qui n'ont plus pour milieu que la lumière ou la couleur [1, 3]. (Deleuze 2002: 80c)

[The figure in the central panel is situated in a space delimited by the contour of the square platform she sits-on.

The square board seems to constrict the figure, as if applying a constricting force upon her. Like when we squeeze a water-balloon, we expect the constricted figure to want to escape outward somehow. And in a similar way, the umbrella itself seems to have seized its grasp on the head. So we get the sense that the squeezed figure is being sucked up-and-out of the umbrella, as if it were a vacuum cleaner. Then the vacuumed figure would shoot out of the umbrella's top, like from a nozzle. But consider also how the figure seems fragilely balanced upon the suspended rail.

The umbrella appears as a heavy weight that perhaps swings like a pendulum. But because also the figure seems to sit above an empty abyss, the umbrella also gives us the impression that it serves as a parachute.

We might say that the central platform isolates the figure from the surrounding field of color. But the color-field itself does not so much have a force of isolation as it has a force of division or separation. So we get the impression that all three are suspended in the same field, but they also seem to be completely independent of each other, as if in between the panels lies a profound temporal and spatial gap. We would not say that the figures are isolated, because in a way the field bridges between them. Yet we also would not say that they have any immediate relations to each other, because the bridging field seems to span incredibly far. In this way, as viewers, we contract the figures together while at the same time retaining a sense of their incompatible difference.

When our eyes move from panel-to-panel, in a sense, we arrive upon a new time-zone. Consider when we look at a map of the time-zones dividing a geographical region. If we hold the map far enough from our eyes, we can see two distant time zones in one glance. It might be noon in one zone but five in the other. Each zone lives in a different time so to speak, but as the observer, we seem to live in a time that stands outside those times that people experience across the globe. Of course this is a metaphor meant to illustrate an idea. Using our imagination, we might consider ourselves as taking-on a position outside of time, an eternal time, when looking at distant time-zones in one glance. Similarly, when our eyes move from one triptych to the next, we also seem to reside in an eternal time. This is because, as we noted, we get the impression that the colored field between the figures extends profoundly between them, even though all that distance is compressed into the wall-space between the painting-frames. So on account of the blank color-fields, we in a way pass into eternity as our eyes move from figure-to-figure.]

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:

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