21 Feb 2010

Flying Figures [60] Triptych, 1970. Deleuze on Bacon, Painting Series

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

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

Flying Figures

Editions de la différence and the Estate of Francis Bacon)

Francis Bacon

Triptych, 1970

Painting 14 of Deleuze's
Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Tome II - Peintures
Painting [60] of the English translation
and Painting [1] 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)

[According to Deleuze, Francis Bacon is a painter of rhythm and sensation. The canvass does not merely display color and form. It is a wrestling mat. When viewing Bacon's paintings, we feel forces and motions pushing-and-pulling its figures in various directions, something tangling and mangling them together. Clearly there is a chaos of forces acting on Bacon's figures, because we see them twist and contort. Often times there are forces squeezing the figure. They originate from a constricting enclosure. Sometimes it is circular. In this case the shape fits within the bounds of the central panel of a triptych.]

(Thanks nga.gov.au)

the place, the contour, becomes an apparatus for the Figure's gymnastics on the fields of color [60]. (Deleuze 2003: 11a)

le contour deviennent agrès pour la gymnastique de la Figure au sein des aplats [1]. (Deleuze 2002: 23a)

[The edge of the circle is the contour, which is a boundary with the surrounding field.]

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

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)

[Figures in Bacon's works are often together in a contorted tangle wrestle. Each figure will affect us with a changing wave of sensation. When the Figures couple, we are under the influence of two different waves of affection, each changing independently of the other; yet both waves together communicate their differences to one another, causing them to resonate. It is like the resonance from two magnets forced together north-to-north end. Both tremble and shake by communicating their oppositional differences to each other. These figures too seem to shake and resonate in this way.

Often times in illustrations, when there are two characters together, there is a discernable relation between them. One might be giving something to the other, for example. We can in those cases deduce a story or narrative explaining their interrelations. However, when Bacon couples figures, we cannot detect any sort of narrative explanation for how they relate.]

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

But sometimes the opposition is completely different and surprising: it is the opposition of the naked and the clothed which we find on the right and left panels of a 1970 triptych [60], but which we had also found on the right and left panels of the 1968 triptych [53] in the two visible attendants. More subtly, in the 1966 triptych of Lucian Freud [38], the exposed shoulder with the contracted head, on the left, is opposed to the covered shoulder with the relaxed and sunken head, on the right. (Deleuze 2003: 56b)

Mais il arrive aussi que l'opposition soit tout autre et surprenante : c'est celle du nu et de l'habillé qu'on trouve à droite et à gauche d'un triptyque de 1970, mais qu'on trouvait déjà à gauche et à droite du triptyque de 1968, chez les deux témoins apparents ; et plus subtilement le triptyque de Lucian Freud de 1966 oppose l'épaule découverte de gauche, avec contraction de la tête, et l'épaule recouverte de droite, avec détente ou affaissement de la tête. (Deleuze 2002: 76c)
[There are certain oppositional relations that Bacon employs in his triptychs, for example one figure will give us the feeling that it is rising, while the other one feels as though it is falling. In this case, the opposition might surprise us, perhaps either because it is unusual for Bacon or because it involved nudity. The left figure is clothed, while the right one is naked.]

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

[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)

[There are forces pushing and pulling the characters in Bacon's paintings. One concrete way we sense them is with how our eyes feel pushed-and-pulled from place-to-place in the painting. In the case of the two sleepers, there seem to be forces which squash them down like pan-cakes. This would be a horizontal or flattening force. Note also the reason why there is no narrative relation between the figures: before they were fully formed, Bacon scrambled their proto-formations using a chance-based technique, like randomly smearing or splattering the paint for example. Then, Bacon looks at the distortions to see all the different directions and dimensions he can expand and develop the painting. He reads them as if they were a diagram or graph whose chaotic lines present new virtual and divergent paths of evolution. Bacon then develops a number of those incompossibilities. What results is a deformation and distortion. Whatever narrative relations might have originally been expressed have now evaporated. We do not process the painting through our brains which would normally try to conceive what our bodies are seeing. After 'diagramming' the painting, we can do no more than have pure sensations of the artwork. In this case, Deleuze says there was a horizontal diagram that produces the flattening forces acting on the tangling bodies. We might trace the horizontal diagram to this region shown below.]

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

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

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 smaller or more localized the contour is, the more aerial the triptych will be, as in the 1970 Triptych [60], where the blue circle and the ocher apparatuses seem to be suspended in a sky. But even here, the field becomes the object of a temporal perception that is raised to eternity as the form of time. (Deleuze 2003: 104b, emphasis mine)

le triptyque sera d autant plus aérien que le contour sera petit ou localisé, comme dans l'oeuvre de 1970 [7 (sic: 1)] où le rond bleu et les agrès ocre semblent suspendus dans un ciel, mais, même alors, l'aplat fait l'object d'une perception temporelle qui s'élève jusqu'à l'éternité d'une forme du temps. (Deleuze 2002: 140b, emphasis mine)

[the armature can] consist of a system of linear apparatuses that suspend the Figure in the field, denying all depth (the 1970 Triptych [60]). (Deleuze 2003: 104bc)

[l'armature peut] consister dans un système d'agrès linéaires qui suspendent la Figure dans l'aplat, toute profondeur niée (1970). (Deleuze 2002: 140c)

[We see in this triptych firstly that in the center panel, the figures are couples. But it is also clear that the other figures in the side panels interact visually with the group. There does not seem to be anything that mediates their interaction, like some recognizable location (a bank, carnival, park, etc), which would allow us to discern different roles and relations between them. Instead, the figures and their raw non-narrative relations are pasted starkly against a monochrome field. There is no locational context to support them either visually or narratively. They seem suspended in the field, like trapeze artists.]

(Again, thanks Francis Bacon, his estate, and
Editions de la différence)

[On the one hand, the monochrome fields seem to place the figures together in the same zone or region. But each figure stands-out from the field. So on the other hand, while the flat-background places the separate panels into the same context, it at the same time produces the sense that they are utterly independent to one another. It is as though a great distance lies between them, the distance of the Sahara, as Bacon says. Deleuze also explains that the centuries of an aeon stand between them as well. So the field presents a force that separates the figures into distant times and spaces, while at the same time contracting them together, as if the uniform field were compressible given its relative homogeneity. The figures are forced together while remaining infinitely apart. Their separation is not extensive. We see them next to each other on the wall, and we view them simultaneously or in rapid succession. So the temporal and spatial distances Deleuze speaks-of are not extensive; rather, they are intensive depths. There is a whole internal dimension with profound depth in Bacon's paintings, especially the triptychs. Deleuze does say that the trapeze apparatuses defy depth. But the depth they defy is the extensive depth of a third visual dimension. Deleuze writes that the more constricted the round enclosure is, the more aerial the figures seem. The figures appear to be flattened and pinned-up to a two-dimensional background. Deleuze calls this an 'armature' because it supports the figures like an armature props-up a sculpture (this the middle of this entry for more on the armature in Bacon's works). But by subtracting from extensive depth, Bacon is able to multiply intensive depth.]

the shadow itself, the Figure's shadow, will be treated with a pure, bright tone (hence the beautiful blue shadow in the 1970 Triptych [60]. (Deleuze 2003: 105bc)

l'ombre elle-même en revanche, l'ombre de la Figure, sera traitée en ton pur et vif (ainsi la belle ombre bleue du « Triptyque » 1970) [1]. (Deleuze 2002: 141d).

[Bacon's figures are often like contorted pieces of meat. This is our body in its fullest and rawest. He often paints flesh using distinct colors that abruptly neighbor each other. Also consider how under many lighting situations, changes in lightness-or-darkness are often gradual or at least visually organized in some understandable way. However, the 'tones' which lighten-or-darken the flesh or 'meat' of Bacon's figures often is inconsistent, incomprehensible, and hence 'broken.' This causes our eyes to jump-around, looking for coherence, all while none is possible (on account of the diagram which scrambled the logic of the painting). But when painting a figure's shadow, Bacon uses fairly consistent color-tones. This accentuates by means of contrast the intensity and disorganization of our body's meat contorted under the wrestling forces acting upon it.]

(Above four images:
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.

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