3 Apr 2010

Violent Juxtapositions: Bacon's Three Phases, including Malerisch, according to David Sylvester

by Corry Shores
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Violent Juxtapositions:
Bacon's Three Phases, including Malerisch,
according to David Sylvester

David Sylvester distinguishes three periods in Bacon's development. In the fifth chapter of his Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, Deleuze refers to these periods, including the malerisch. Sylvester characterizes Bacon's first period this way: there are hard and bright backgrounds along with precise, simple, and clearly-rendered figures. In the second phase, Bacon's figures have a malerisch character, and the backgrounds soften and resemble a curtain, almost. In the third phase, Bacon replaces curtain-like backgrounds with hard, bright, and flat fields. Contrasted against them are the figures, which retain their malerisch traits and are composed of scrambled paint. In this way, figure and field become 'violently juxtaposed'.

The following is from the interviews, The Brutality of Fact. pp.18-20.

David Sylvester: It seems to me that in your painting you've confronted an immense and extraordinary kind of difficulty which possibly relates to your desire that the form should be at once very precise and very ambiguous. In that triptych of 1944 you used a hard bright ground for very precisely and simply displayed forms, carved-out forms, as it were, and that was entirely consistent.

(euroartmagazine.com Thanks Dr. Gerry Coulter)

Then the handling of the forms became malerisch, and with this the background became softer, more tonal, often curtained, and all that was entirely consistent. But then you got rid of the curtains; you came to combine a malerisch handling of the form - and with the paint getting more and more scrambled - with a hard, flat, bright ground, so that you violently juxtapose two opposite conventions. [18-20]

Francis Bacon: Well, I've increasingly wanted to make the images simpler and more complicated. And for this to work, it can work more starkly if the background is very united and clear. I think that probably is why I have used a very clear background against which the image can articulate itself.

DS: I don't think I can think of any other painter who has tried to resolve such a contradiction between a malerisch image and a vivid, uninflected ground.

FB: Well, that may be because I hate a homely atmosphere, and I always feel that malerisch painting has too homely a background. I would like the intimacy of the image against a very stark background. I want to isolate the image and take it away from the interior and the home. [20b, boldface mine]

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