Posted by Alex Russell on May 07, 19100 at 04:10:08:
In Reply to: Reply to Your Request posted by Daniel D. Tennant on April 13, 19100 at 19:20:16:
: : As a 6th-form art student, I have to write an essay on distortion in portraits.
: : Under the chapter of Francis Bacon, I have stumbled into a dead end. In all the reports, books, articles and what-nots about Bacon I have read, I still cannot find any reason WHY his portraits are so disfigured, disformed and distorted.
: : Can anyone kindly be of help, as to pointing me in the right direction with use of web pages, books, etc.
: : To be of even more help, could anyone possibly simply give me any useful information at all?
: : Thank you for your time,
: : and it's a great site, too.
: I have been conducting research on Francis Bacon for an Art History course. I am a painter at SWT. Bacon distorts the figure for several reasons. First in his own words, he commented that he did not like to have his subjects present when he painted them, preferring to work from photos or memory (usually photos) He said that having them present inhibited him from doing the violence that he would do to his subects through the act of representation. His paintings are expressing violence, apprehension, pain and death. From a technical standpoint, one of his goals was to deconstruct the figure. He would imagine his subjects as malleable as clay and would twist them into impossible positions. On yet another level, if you agree with the theories set forth in Ernst van Alphen's book, he was interested in the loss of self or identity. His position was that we form self-images from our visual awareness of how we look (ex. mirror's reflection) Francis sought to negate this through the representational process of image-making. I personally believe the former rather than the latter explanatin although there may be some truth to van Alphen's assumptions. His images cause pain to the viewer. It is his image's affective qualities that make his imagery so powerful. Through committing violence to the representation, he is also able to cause violence to the viewer. Above alll, Bacon was interested in communicating sensations to the viewer. He wanted to have his paintings directly affect the nervous system. I hope this helps.
Daniel Tennant is right about Bacon wanting to deconstrudt the figure and get to the nervous system (both his subject's and the viewers). In reality (what ever that means), Bacon's portraits are not difigured or distorted - we are. We fear recovering-uncovering ourselevs and feel secure by the lie of the photograph which just distorts 'reality' into dead fixity. Photography and photo-realist painting (empirical-reality) is the real distortion(disformed, disfigured reality.
We crudely assume Bacon's heads and bodies are distorted because we are so lazily conditioned by photography as representing 'true reality'. Bacon, like my own art-work, seeks the 'extra-empirical'(see Julia Kristeva)by going straight for the jugular, for the nervous system which is the electric-current-supply system to the human and not so human being. Some of Bacon's great accidental-arbitary-paint marks and scars go straight to the nervous system by passing the banality of illustrational form. Lucien Freud and David hockney are trapped in the banality of literal-illustrative-representation. Bacon shows us it is possible to paint a portrait without painting in eyes, noses, mouths, ears; these can be put in without putting them in (in the literal sense of the term). One can paint a portrait, as Bacon shows us, with arbitary, irrational marks. My criticism of Bacon is that, as he got older, he got lazy, and painted too many dull iluustrative portraits which went against the grain of his earlier radical anti-illustrational work. Bacon's quest was: "How can one paint a portrait without illustrating it?" This for me is a fundamental question for us artists. Bacon's portraits are not distorted or disfigured; it is our (mis)perception that has become warped. Best Regards Alex Russell, School of Bacon
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