4 Apr 2010

A Sculpture of Time: Francis Bacon's Armature, according to Deleuze

by Corry Shores
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A Sculpture of Time:
Francis Bacon's Armature, according to Deleuze

Deleuze writes of Bacon's armature. Bacon explained he had ambitions of doing sculpture, and even described an element of his painting as being an armature. Deleuze regards the armature as one of the three principle parts of Bacon's paintings. Later I will explore the possibility that the armature is what connects two fundamentals of our experience of time: the instantaneous and the eternal.

Lauri Panopoulos is an accomplished sculptor who has graciously helped us to understand what armatures are in sculpting. Her works were recently exhibited at a showing. And you can find images for many of her incredible works here at her site. And below are just a few of her sculptures.

The Element of Delphia, 2009.

For Lord Ecco, 2009.

The Bride Of Gold And Money, 2010
(Above images obtained gratefully from www.lauripanopoulos.com)

Tyrone, 2007

Lauri explains that an armature is a support. So, it is a structure that holds-up the sculpture. Normally, she notes, it is made of metal. We should think of a skeleton that we apply our clay to. She provides this image of the armature's role in the sculpting process.

(Thanks very much Lauri Panopoulos for this image and all your help)

In the following passages, which Deleuze cites, Bacon explains his ambitions to sculpt, and how the armature would play a role similar to elements in his paintings.

Francis Bacon: [regarding the Crucifixion...] I haven't found another subject so far that has been as helpful for covering certain areas of human feeling and behavior. 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 (Bacon & Sylvester 44, emphasis mine).


David Sylvester: Those sculptures you used to talk about wanting to do: have you more or less given up the idea now?

FB: I don't think I will do them, because I think I have now found a way by which I could do the images I thought of more satisfactorily in paint than I could in sculpture. I haven't started on them yet, but through thinking about them as sculptures it suddenly came to me how I could make them in paint, and do them much better in paint. It could be a kind of structure painting in which images, as it were, would arise from a river of flesh. It sounds a terribly romantic idea, but I see it very formally.

DS: And what would the form be?

FB: They would certainly be raised on structures.

DS: Several figures?

FB: Yes, and there would probably be a pavement raised high out of its naturalistic setting, out of which they could move as though out of pools of flesh rose the images, if possible, of specific people walking on their daily round. I hope to be able to do figures arising out of their own flesh with their bowler hats and their umbrellas and make them figures as poignant as the Crucifixion. (Bacon & Sylvester, 83b.d, emphasis mine)


DS: I've found that quite a number of the paintings you've done in the last three or four years - especially paintings of the nude - have tended to remind me that for some time now you've been talking about wanting to do sculpture. Do you yourself feel that thinking about doing sculpture has had any effect on the way you've been paintings?

Francis Bacon: Yes, I think it's quite possible. Because for several years now I've been very much thinking about sculpture, though I haven't ever yet done it, because each time I want to do it I get the feeling that perhaps I could do it better in painting. But now I have decided to make a series of paintings of the sculptures in my mind and see how they come out as paintings. And then I might actually start on sculpture.

David Sylvester: Can you give any sort of description of sculptures that you've thought of doing?

Francis Bacon: I've thought about sculptures on a kind of armature, a very large armature made so that the sculpture could slide along it and people could even alter the position of the sculpture as they wanted. The armature would not be as important as the image, but it would be there to set it off, as I have very often used an armature to set off the image in paintings. I've felt that in sculpture I would perhaps be able to do it more poignantly.

David Sylvester: Would the armature be anything like the sorts of rail which you've sometimes used in paintings - for instance, that crouching male nude of 1952 or the picture done in 1965 with a woman and a child taken from Muybridge?

Francis Bacon: Study for Crouching Nude, 1952

Francis Bacon: After Muybridge - Woman Emptying a Bowl of Water and Paralytic Child, 1965
Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, Munich

FB: Yes, I've thought of the rail in very highly-polished steel and that it would be slotted so that the image could be screwed into place in different positions.

DS: Have you visualized the colours and textures of the images?

FB: I would have to talk to somebody who technically understood sculpture much more than I do, but I myself have thought they should be cast in a very thin bronze - not in some kind of plastic, because I would want them to have the weight of bronze - and I've wanted to throw over them a coat of flesh-coloured whitewash, so that they'd look as though they had been dipped into an ordinary kind of white-wash, with the sort of texture of sand and lime that you get. So thatyou would have the feeling of this flesh and this highly-polished steel.

DS: And what sort of scale have you seen them as having?

FB: I've seen the armature as a very large space, like a street, and the images as comparatively small in relation to the space. The images would be naked figures, but not literal naked figures; I've seen them as very formal images of figures in different attitudes, either single or coupled. Whether I do them or not, I shall certainly try and do them in painting, and I hope I shall be able to do them in sculpture if they come off at all in the paintings. I shall probably do them in painting on the reverse side of the canvas, which might give some illusion of how they might look if they were left in space.

DS: Of course, the Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion of 1944 are clearly defined plastic forms which could almost be copied in sculpture.

Francis Bacon: Triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944.
(euroartmagazine.com Thanks Dr. Gerry Coulter)

FB: Well, I thought of them as the Eumenides, and at the time I saw the whole Crucifixion in which these would be there instead of the usual figures at the base of the cross. And I was going to put these on an armature around the cross, which itself was going to be raised, and the image on the cross was to be in the centre with these things arranged around it. But I never did that; I just left these as attempts.

DS: There's a very recent painting with a figure of a man seated in a room facing a window and outside the window a kind of phantasmal figure which is once more, you've said, a representation of the Eumenides. And that phantasm, it seems to me, is about as purely and simply sculpturalas the 1944 Eumenides [Again,

Francis Bacon: Seated Figure, 1974
Gilbert de Botton Collection
(Thank you Stampfli & Turci of eaobjets.wordpress.com and Palazzo Reale)

But it's the figure of the man in this painting, or that reclining figure with window-blinds in the background which you painted three years ago that strikes me as typical of the way the figures tend to be sculptural now.

Francis Bacon:
Lying Figure in a Mirror, 1971
It's more complex now, because now, when you create a defined sculptural form, it's qualified through nuances in the paint which create many suggestions and ambiguities. Nevertheless, those figures have a very emphatic plasticity. [Bacon & Sylvester p113d, emphasis mine]

FB: Well, I would like now - and I suppose it's through thinking about sculpture - I would like, quite apart from the attempt to do sculpture, to make the painting itself very much moresculptural. I do see in these images the way in which the mouth, the eyes, the ears could be used in painting so that they were there in a totally irrational way but a more realistic way, but I haven't come round yet to seeing quite how that would be done in sculpture. I might be able to come round to it. I do see all the time images that keep on coming up which are more and more formal and more and more based upon the human body, yet taken further from it in imagery. And I would like to make the portraits more sculptural, because I think it is possible to make a thing both a great image and a great portrait.

DS: It's very interesting that you associate the idea of the great image with sculpture. Perhaps this goes back to your love of Egyptian sculpture?

FB: Well, it's possible. I think that perhaps the greatest images that man has so far made have been in sculpture. I'm thinking of some of the great Egyptian sculpture, of course, andGreek sculpture too. For instance, the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum are always very important to me, but I don't know if they're important because they're fragments, and whether if one had seen the whole image they would seem as poignant as they seem as fragments.

And I've always thought about Michelangelo; he's always been deeply important in my way of thinking about form. But although I have this profound admiration for all his work, the work that I like most of all is the drawings. For me he is one of the very greatest draughtsmen, if not the greatest. [Bacon & Sylvester 114c, , emphasis mine] [End of interview citations.]

Studies for the Libyan Sibyl (recto);
Studies for the Libyan Sibyl and a Small Sketch for a Seated Figure (verso), 1508–12

Finally, let's look at Deleuze's understanding of Bacon's armatures. The figure and the field might be somewhat easy to discern, especially in Bacon's later works where they are 'violently juxtaposed'. It often seems that the figure is hovering in an empty abyss of color. Were it not for some support structure, we would expect it to drop out of the painting onto the museum floor. The figure also is surrounded by an enclosing shape or structure, which has an outer-boundary that Deleuze calls the contour. This enclosure is one of the few ways that we obtain some sense of a horizontal plane of extending depth in the work. So in many works, the armature would be what seems implicitly to connect the contour (demarcating the horizontal plane) with the field (providing the vertical plane). When describing this type of armature, Deleuze does not cite an example, but we might consider for instance
Triptych, Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud, 1966.
Here we see the contour of the chair-shapes jutting-out from the painting as though creating a horizontal plane. Then there is the outer contour of the carpet, which as well suggests the horizontal plate. The contour of both the chair and the carpet seem fixed to the field somehow. We might imagine these structures and their juncture providing something like the armature in sculptures.

Francis Bacon:
Triptych, Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud, 1966

(Lauri Panopoulos' armature image)

Yet, the horizontal planes that the contours create do not seem to extend further than the enclosing shape. So while there is a sense of extending depth, it is still a shallow depth, especially since the surrounding field still seems to jut-up against the shallow figures, as though it were a flat board on which the figures are pinned, rather than extend behind them like a landscape.

Deleuze writes that there are other sorts of armatures as well. It might consist of 'linear apparatuses that suspend the Figure in the field, denying all depth' as with the 1970 Triptych. (Deleuze 104bc)

Francis Bacon:
Triptych, 1970
(Once again, thank you Editions de la différence and the Estate of Francis Bacon)

Finally, the armature can be a black section near or around the figure. It might seemed confined locally, as with
Pope No. II, 1960

Francis Bacon:
Pope No. II, 1960
Private collection, Switzerland
(Still yet again, thank you Editions de la différence and the Estate of Francis Bacon)

The black section might also be flowing out of its bounds, as with

Francis Bacon: Triptych, 1973
Saul Sternberg Collection, New York
(And finally once more, thanks Editions de la différence and the Estate of Francis Bacon)

Or finally, the black armature section might in fact constitute the entire field, as is the case in

Francis Bacon: Three Studies of the Human Body, 1967
Private Collection
(Thanks very much sound--vision.blogspot.com)

Later we will discuss the armature's role in our experience of time when viewing a Bacon painting. The field is outside of time in a way, because it is eternal. When we view a panel of a triptych, we get the sense that an infinity of field separates the panels and the figures found inside them. And yet, our eyes pass from one panel to the next almost instantly. An infinity of time is contracted down to an instant. This gives us the experience of the empty eternal form of time that change fills-up. But then our eyes land-upon the figures. They were distorted and developed into a multiplicity of directions of development. Yet all these incompossible tendencies are found together as instantaneous forces or instantaneous changes or instantaneous tendencies. We are never able to make-out or recognize what we see, but the wrestling forces in the figure convince us that there is something profoundly real that we look at. It is a brute fact. So we cannot dismiss it as a mess or as being empty or as being just nothing at all. We are gripped by the figures. Each instant we sense something different. This means we have trouble connecting what we see one moment with what we see the next moment. In other words, we do not very easily experience a smooth flow of time, but rather a series of independent instants, each of which is expressed by its differences from the other moments. So each moment is difference. We do not then constitute a flowing extent of time when viewing the figures. But as we saw, we also do not experience a flow of time when our eyes pass through the fields separating the figures. We jump from the empty form of time to a time that never comes to be constituted. In other words, we move from one non-experience of time to another. What allows the two sorts of non-time to be bridged together is the structural element that links the figure to the field. Thus it is the armature in Bacon's paintings that keep us in the grips of the pure and intensive foundations of time, rather then letting us glide and flow through a synthetic extending time continuum.

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.

Images obtained with my deepest gratitude from:

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

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