27 Feb 2010

Sensation on a Whole New Level: Bacon's Layers and Sequences of Feeling

by Corry Shores
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Sensation on a Whole New Level:
Bacon's Layers and Sequences of Feeling

In chapter 6 of Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation), Deleuze writes:

What does Bacon mean when, throughout the interviews, he speaks of "orders of sensation," "levels of feeling," "areas of sensation," or "shifting sequences"? [footnote 8] (Deleuze 26d)

Que veut dire Bacon, partout dans ses entretiens, chaque fois qu'il parle des « ordres de sensation », des « niveaux sensitifs », des « domaines sensibles » ou des « séquences mouvantes »? (Deleuze 41b)

Deleuze does not footnote which pages these terms are found-on. Fortunately, the English translator, Daniel Smith, provides the page numbers. In the following, we quote directly from these places in The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon.

David Sylvester [DS]: You paint a lot of series, of course.

Francis Bacon [FB]: I do. Partly because I see every image all the time in a shifting way and almost in shifting sequences. So that one can take it from more or less what is called ordinary figuration to a very, very far point. (Bacon & Sylvester, 21, emphasis mine)


FB: And this is the obsession: how like can I make this thing in the most irrational way? So that you're not only remaking the look of the image, you're remaking all the areas of feeling which you yourself have apprehensions of (27-28). You want to open up so many levels of feeling if possible, which can't be done in . . . . It's wrong to say it can't be done in pure illustration, in purely figurative terms, because of course it has been done. It has been done in Velasquez. That is, of course, where Velasquez is so different to Rembrandt, because, oddly enough, if you take the great late self-portraits of Rembrandt, you will find that the whole contour of the face changes time after time; it's a totally different face, although it has what is called a look of Rembrandt, and by this difference it involves you in different areas of feeling. (28a, emphasis mine)


DS: But do you not think, since you talk about recording different levels of feeling in one image, that, among other things, you may be expressing at one and the same time a love of the person and a hostility towards them - that what you are making may be both a caress and an assault?

FB: I think that is too logical. I don't think that's the way things work. I think it goes to a deeper thing: how do I feel I can make this image more immediately real to myself? That's all (43, emphasis mine).


FB: Well, there have been so very many great pictures in European art of the Crucifixion that it's a magnificent armature on which you can hang all types of feeling and sensation [...].

FB: [...] Perhaps it is only because so many people have worked on this particular theme that it has created this armature - I can't think of a better way of saying it - on which one can operate all types of level of feeling (44, emphasis mine).


FB: [...] One of the things about the Crucifixion is the very fact that the central figure of Christ is raised into a very pronounced and isolated position, which gives it, from a formal point of view, greater possibilities than having all the different figures placed on the same level. The alteration of level is, from my point of view, very important (46ab, emphasis mine).


DS: It's a matter of reconciling opposites, I suppose - of making the thing be contradictory things at once.

FB: Isn't it that one wants a thing to be as factual as possible and at the same time as deeply suggestive or deeply unlocking of areas of sensation other than simple illustration of the object that you set out to do? Isn't that what all art is about? (56d, emphasis mine)


FB: One of the reasons why I don't like abstract painting, or why it doesn't interest me, is that I think painting is a duality and that abstract painting is an entirely aesthetic thing (58d). It always remains on one level. It is only really interested in the beauty of its patterns or its shapes. We know that most people, especially artists, have large areas of undisciplined emotion, and I think that abstract artists believe that in these marks that they're making they are catching all these sorts of emotions. But I think that, caught in that way, they are too weak to convey anything. I think that great art is deeply ordered (59c.d, emphasis mine)


[Regarding art's response to technical means of recording facts, for example photograph and film...]

FB: Because, with these marvelous mechanical means of recording fact, what can you do but go to a very much more extreme thing where you are reporting fact not as simple fact but on many levels where you unlock the areas of feeling which lead to a deeper sense of the reality of the image, where you attempt to make the construction by which this thing will be caught raw and alive and left there and, you may say, finally fossilized - there it is (66c, emphasis mine).

Bacon, Francis & David Sylvester. The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1987.
More information from the publisher here:

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.

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