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A seminar with Francis Bacon …

Well – he has never taught art to others officially, and has never been taught art by others in such a manner

And while not being entirely sure, if just because or despite of that  – Francis Bacon excels as an art (painting) tutor. I found him so lucidly articulated, so continuously and deeply inspiring in his views on the artistic practice that I just couldn’t help not to present his ‘tutorials’ in a customized, yet systematic way.

Bacon took with him his mystery of how to talk about highly complex and irrational matters in an analytical and engaging manner.  And this very ability of his redeems his work, which could otherwise be easily classified as a tormented expression of an idiot-savant. Being himself deeply anti-theoretical he offers an impressive theory of his own oeuvre. With a certain force of authority, though never deliberately,  he shows that an artist’s journey is (should be) a continuous interplay between both challenges: ‘making images’ and making sense of them…

All points below are taken from interviews Bacon gave to D. Sylvester and while taking part in a documentary devoted to his work. They are extracts of the artist’s more elaborated statements. To access the original talks get a book and watch the movie (links below).

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You have to decide, that you are not going to be afraid of making a fool of yourself.

One needs to find his subject – otherwise one will be tempted to escape into a decoration. Most of the problems of the painting now result from the fact that painters don’t know what to paint – they are short of images.

The better the techniques of recording the reality become – the more inventive the painter needs to be in his ways to lock reality into something completely arbitrary. Going back to figuration in a more accepted sense is weak and meaningless.

The image – its power and integrity matters more than the beauty of paint.

Narration speaks louder than paint – avoid telling stories, unless you want to.

Aim at a highly disciplined work, even though the methods of pursuing it need to be ever- experimental and deeply instinctive. To make an image one has to control it.

Use secondary imaginary as a compost which will breed you images.

Painting (if successful) is a process of unlocking sensations and feelings on as many levels and as acutely as possible.

Painting is a ongoing interplay of luck/hazard, instinct and one’s critical sense.

Your technique needs to be as subjective and unique as your sensibility is.

‘Fresh’ image is the one which has a ‘foam of the unconscious’ still locked around it…

Make your forms memorable – otherwise they will exist only as ‘blobs’ on a wall…

A chance is more important than a conscious intellect because I made images that intellect would never make.

If you going to capture something REALLY REAL – it will be painful…

The most important thing for a painter is – to paint – nothing more…


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D. Sylvester, ‘Interviews with Francis Bacon: The Brutality of fact’, Thames and Hudson

Francis Bacon Documentary’

Here: preview of a new exhibition of Bacon in Dublin: ‘Terrible Beauty’


The story of Bacon’s studio

ks317ks3222Well, the story is simple, yet it remains, as for my current knowledge without a precedent in the contemporary art history. It goes like this:

At 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington, London; at the last floor in a shabby, industrial-looking building Francis Bacon has lived and worked for the last thirty years of his life (1961-1992). It was there, where a big chunk of his works of had been created – in solitude and in the ‘ordered chaos”, as he would call the towering pandemonium of his workshop.

John Edwards, the artist’s old companion became a heir of the space (and its contents) and after its main occupant’s sudden death, he has donated Bacon’s studio to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Contemporary Art in Dublin. For three long years art historians and conservators, supported by archeologists were documenting, removing and reconstructing every inch of the room and every bit of dirt in the new ‘home’.

In May 2001 the studio was open to the public, drawing significant numbers of visitors – art students/researchers/admirers to the gallery. However, some bitter discussions and arguments has sustained for years over that ‘transplantation’ as London’s art world – never truly giving any credit to Bacon’s Irish roots (artist was born in Dublin, then moved to London in his teens) had to swallow a bitter pill indeed, after Edwards had decided against everyone’s expectations (of leaving the treasure where it was). Irony adds a grotesque element to the whole story – the perpetrator of the mess, the painter himself had nothing to do with all that phenomenon germinating as happily and unstoppably as the mould has been in his beloved studio. He remained loyal to it despite numerous offers of much better (objectively speaking) locations, and never truly concerned what will happen to it after he’s gone.

But, what is that phenomenon all about? Does it exist at all beyond the claustrophobic circle of Bacon’s fans and London-Dublin microcosm of the local politics? What is the matter – after all?

A relatively tiny attic space, gray and dark, with no widows except of a skylight. Its contents – beyond any description (hence photos). Treated with awe, respect and a sort of a silenced admiration which one adopts facing a great artwork. Is Bacon’s Studio an artwork on its own? There are many, who have never doubted it… If so – can a significant artwork be created without its creator’s conscious will, sometimes – even against it; as Bacon would ‘fight’ his chaos from time to time, removing a part of the mess? What sort of the methodological and aesthetic tools one needs to approach ‘an artwork’ of this kind? Questions just keep flowing raising some controversial issues on the nature of art, its very core/sense/meaning…

I remember seeing it at Hugh Lane, with a long, elegant corridor of a very well-behaved art decorating the walls leading to it – the contrast was almost sublime, yet – all the project of that post-mortem ‘repatriation’ seemed pointless to me, even cruel for some reason. Great artist’s spirit locked in a maze of his belongings was right there – mocking mercilessly all the ‘gentile’ surroundings, yet – paying an unfairly high price at the same time – the price of being the perfect stranger, the alien “Other”… Packed in a sterile cage of a gallery’s room like a bizarre gift and a trophy for the visitors – that intensely private (Bacon would never let anyone to enter this space, except the closest friends), and – must say – profoundly moving and in a deep sense beautiful room seemed like the loneliest, the most misunderstood space within the art-world. An amusing ‘freak-show’ for some, a perfect epitome of the genius-artist’s workshop for many…

What else can be said – would you ever consider a couple of your old socks, you’ve had used as wipes  becoming a gallery/collection jewel?… would you ever give a thought, that your online ‘studio’ – your ‘e-space’ may look as madly creative, legendary and desired to ‘possess’ by dozens as 7 Reece Mews had been? Would you… this makes all the art-creating business even more interesting… Doesn’t it – after all?…

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Both photos above of F. Bacon’s studio by Perry Ogden; scanned by me from 7 Reece Mews; Francis Bacon’s Studio, Thames and Hudson, London, 2001.


Whilt – what have I learned today? (1)

What have I learned today (Whilt) – my new series I hope to use to record my day to day discoveries. These maybe as little as learning a new word in a different language and as extraordinary as … discovering a new law of physics (why not, after all?). In a sense it’s a self-disciplinary tool to keep me going (hope you too) on my way with an always-open, searching and questioning mind and spirit. Always on a move – who stops in a one place, goes backwards; feeling the times and spaces of ‘here and now’ – answering to their needs/challenges; and the self-education  – because ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ (Socrates) – this is, what it all is about… Join me, if you wish, share your daily Eureka-s…

Francis Bacon (Sir. – a writer and a philosopher, not the painter) was born in London in 1561.

– He was an excellent solicitor and a statesman, 1613 – became attorney general, 1618 – Lord Chancellor, dies 1626.

– His (called ‘Baconian‘ or ‘scientific’) method of reasoning (developing of philosophy) is characterized by an induction (going from particular instances to general laws) and by an internal struggle with preconceived ideas – his famous Idols. Idols are of four types and are a major obstruction in an objective/innovatory reasoning. These are Idols of: Tribe (humans’ tendency to perceive more order in systems that there truly is), Cave (thinking out of our biased , personal ‘cave’ – our personality/likes/dislikes), Marketplace (I don’t get the meaning of the name here, but it has something to do with the weakness of the language – with the protean nature of words/expressions), Theater (thinking along frames and grids of other philosophical systems, even when they don’t suit the concept/problem). See more his works here.

– he wrote also a set of comparatively lightweight essays on truth, love, nobility, death – see them here

– quote to remember: Knowledge is power. (Meditationes Sacrae. De Haeresibus. 1597)

– curiosity: there are some sources (like M. Twain’s Is Shakespeare Dead?) claiming, that he was an author of some of Shakespeare’s works… well, I will have to search this through to say yes/no.

Well, hope you’ve enjoyed this one. Interestingly enough – even after writing this and hearing “Francis Bacon” again, I will probably have on my mind,  firstly – the painter’s screaming, gorgeous works and then – ‘scientific method’ and ‘Knowledge is power’ , well – the power of art, the power of images proves to be even more intense than that of the pure ‘knowledge’… Or, so it seems to be…


Bacon or how to suffer in an outstanding manner…

Francis Bacon is back again in London – Tate Britain (11 Sept. 2008 – 4 Jan. 2009) – or, as I should write – he strikes again in this major retrospective show, displaying the formidable panorama of his paintings right from the first attempts (1940s) to the last experiments executed before his death in 1992. The exhibition fills in ten rooms with the most of the representative works present. Additionally – what I fully appreciated as a student – there is one room devoted to the methods and materials of the artist’s research and another one – called the “Crisis” featuring his artistic mistakes. And it’s probably from Bacon’s mistakes that one should start to view his art (maybe right after the impressive early period) – they clearly show how perfectly balanced his masterpieces are and how incredibly difficult had to be to find that fine line – between the genius audacity/ an outstanding quality of suffering portrayed and a pure, cheap melodrama/grotesque strangely embodied into it.

There are different sorts and qualities of suffering, to mention only few: the one, which glows with inner nobility and sophistication; other, which is low and attention-seeking, flirting with itself and seeking self-approval; the one, great and intense, which has no name until some kind of a higher/different level of self-recognition takes place and the one, which cannot be named at all – simply because is beyond human capacity of the verbal expression and anything you can do is to be silent in its presence. And Bacon’s paintings actually look like those, by a default, silent companions of their creator’s inner turmoil – giving it voice by the artistic language yet, paradoxically, communicating or conveying nothing beyond its own captivating void. The vision presented is the Alpha and Omega in itself, a riddle not to be explained – only accepted, with all the courage and emotional maturity it demands. For this Irish-born painter, alike Peter Handke in his autobiographical story, where he tries to reflect on his mother suicide (“It’s about the moments, when the mind boggles with horror so brief that speech always comes to late. Horror seems real and meaningful only when it is incomprehensible…” ) – leads us at the very edge of what the typical cognitive system perceives as ‘human’.

What is utterly fascinating in all this, is that that enigmatic, powerful monster and alien encaged into Bacon’s canvases keeps the modern viewer under his spell, even wins the claim as ‘genius’ instead of, as the common sense whispers -to provoke a total rejection or simply, to scare him away. Just like with Shakespeare’s murderers and witches – one cannot simply apply wrong/right brackets, we are suspended in the unnamed and the dark, hold there by the sheer magic of the art… Only very few artists out of dozens who were trying to confront the man with his own shadows succeeded, only few suffered – in an outstanding manner – through their art, teaching us – perhaps unwittingly – how to acknowledge and express our own pain. Bacon belongs to those few and that will probably sound shamelessly, but … I’m glad that he happened to exist, in the very unique way of his. His story casts as much shadow as it illuminates – it’s good to have it ‘documented’ in the great artworks, it’s great to have those audacious screams in paint among us.

P. S.

See the virtual, interactive tour of the exhibition here, yet – for the better results, see it in life…


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