2 Feb 2010

Accidents at a Butcher Shop. Francis Bacon Describes Accident in Painting 1946

by Corry Shores
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Accidents at a Butcher Shop

Bacon offers two examples to illustrate how accidental variations in his figures cause them to impose directly upon our nervous systems. The following is quotation.

Francis Bacon:
Well, one of the pictures I did in 1946, the one like a butcher's shop, came to me as an accident. I was attempting to make a bird alighting on a field. And it may have been bound up in some way with the three forms that had gone before, but suddenly the lines that I'd drawn suggested something totally different, and out of this suggestion arouse this picture. I had no intention to do this picture; I never thought of it in that way. It was like one continuous accident mounting on top of another.

Painting, 1946

David Sylvester:
Did the bird alighting suggest the umbrella or what?

It suddenly suggested an opening-up into another area of feeling altogether. And then I made these things, I gradually made them. So that I don't think the bird suggested the umbrella; it suddenly suggested this whole image. And I carried it out very quickly, in about three or four days.

It often happens, does it, this transformation of the image in the course of working?

It does, but now I always hope it will arrive more positively. Now I feel that I want to do very, very specific objects, though made out of something which is completely irrational from the point of view of being an illustration. I want to do very specific things like portraits, and they will be portraits of the people, but, when you come to analyze them, you just won't know - or it would be very hard to see - how the image is made up at all. And this is why in a way it is very wearing; because it is really a complete accident.

An accident in what sense?

[end p.11]

Because I don't know how the form can be made. For instance, the other day I painted a head of somebody, and what made the sockets of the eyes, the nose, the mouth were, when you analyzed them, just forms which had nothing to do with eyes, nose or mouth; but the paint moving from one contour into another made a likeness of this person I was trying to paint. I stopped; I thought for a moment I'd got something much nearer to what I want. Then the next day I tried to take it further and tried to make it more poignant, more near, and I lost the image completely. Because this image is a kind of tightrope walk between what is called figurative painting and abstraction. It will go right out from abstraction but will really have nothing to do with it. It's an attempt to bring the figurative thing up onto the nervous system more violently and more poignantly.


Bacon, Francis & David Sylvester. The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1987.
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