Tag Archives: figurative painting

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).


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…


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’

New toys of a dirty boy – Eric Fischl






A gifted boy with dirty imagination is back.

Eric Fischl (b. 1948, NY) has apparently abandoned his flamboyant yuppies and bad boys lost in their hedonistic activities on daddies’ yachts and in flashy apartments. Or rather – he grew up with them, since the new characters of his painted stories are middle- aged couples, lost again, yet in thoughts more than in purely sensual stimulants.

In 2002 the painter has staged and directed few episodes of a very contemporary drama, he hired actors and then extensively photographed them in a home-like setting; then he painted a series of works based on their performance there. So-called “Krefeld Project” (from then name of a place in Germany) has been accomplished.

As the portrayed relationship goes deeper and stranger, so the paint on the surface of canvas dissolves and disintegrates. Identity of the examined individuals goes to pieces (or rather – layers) with it. They are every-and-any-of-us, white, heterosexual, ‘normal’, inhabiting a modern-looking, comfortable space.

Yet, there is that unsettling, heavy air that lingers, much like in D. Lynch’s movies. Sexually charged atmosphere is rendered beautifully in peachy, golden light; a viewer is faced with everyday scenes of great intimacy… But it’s hardly yet another “Casablanca” – nobody is going to make a life-saving sacrifice here. A couple plays enjoyable roles in their cushy world, just like many of us do. They may stay this way for years or leave each other next day, to find another apartment with fresh towels and soft robes, to create a new illusion of communication and sense with another human being. Like many of us – middle-class, Caucasian, modern – would do…

Leaving all these complex (always highly individualized) readings of Fischl’s work, there is no way to miss his technical mastery (best appreciated, obviously, in details), which he had managed to gain over the years and displays in his recent paintings. He virtually doesn’t ‘paint’ mechanically speaking – he seems to project his thoughts seamlessly on canvas, like dreams project upon consciousness without any conscious effort or even a will. Fluid yet fractured, complex yet straightforward, intimate yet sunk in itself – the life, the world, the people of our age. We – our – selves… A lesson from a grown-up dirty boy?


One can appreciate E. Fischl paintings from the “Krefeld Project” in the National Museum of Krakow, Poland till the end of August 2009. To see my article on the exhibition there: here. To see more detailed photos and descriptions: here.

Troubled Art – Chaim Soutine

He was that kind of a difficult snotty kid, who appeared from nowhere as if fully formed, then, like a meteor glowing with dark, perpetual fire he flashed through life fulfilled with struggles, suffering, torment and passions. He left one of the most compelling collections of paintings in the Modern Art; despite of the quite ferocious competition from Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani and many others…

Chaim Soutine was a painter of his own obsessions. Only. Buying his place in the art world at a high price of the family rejection, exile, extreme poverty, illness and the life-long emotional disturbance he remained an outsider in Paris of Modernists; moody, clumsy Jewish oddball from funny-sounding village (Smilovitchy) in Belarus.

He painted like a man possessed, staining canvasses with his own guts and each time risking that he won’t survive his own probe. He handled paint like one handles a chunk of meat – he penetrated it deeply as if with a knife in order to spread it thickly across the canvas in violent patterns. An ultimate, genius painting animal – no real training, no theory or concepts behind, no alternations or preparations – only the creative act, urgent, necessary, exhausting and virtuoso at the same time.

He was often called ‘the painter of death’ due to his eccentric fancies for smelly carcasses and hanged turkeys; yet – I cannot agree with that. For Soutine’s perpetual greed and hunger for life is much more stronger than his apparent melancholic flirting with the extinction forces… His forests and fields, dead birds and fish seemed to be endowed with life simply because they  breathe with Soutine’s own fever, intensity, complexity and beauty of the character. His admired master – Rembrandt has taught him that – that reality is there to be respected; the materiality, sensuality of things is at the foundation of a spiritual strength. That’s why Soutine was probably the only major painter in Fauvists and Cubists’ Paris having painting only from life and with no interest at all in participating in the revolution going on in art at that moment.

I have a strange fondness for that dirty Jewish kid, I envy his purest, unadulterated ‘gut feeling’ of paint and creative experience; and when I was looking for his grave at Montparnasse Cemetery (it took me a bit – the grave itself is a very simple, horizontal tombstone in a small, Jewish part of the place) I had in mind the words of a distinguished Polish art historian (Waldemar Lysiak) – that Chaim Soutine was forever a banished child – the one thrown out of a nest, who has never fully managed to exorcise his childhood and to grant the world his absolution… And he painted, again an again, the most poignant images of little children (just like the one featured above) – alone on a road, with ominous, stormy world towering over them… Little exiles, at home in no place; so sad yet so truthful – and with no sentiment or self-pity at all…


Frank Auerbach – the painter of intimacy

Frank Auerbach (b. in Berlin 1931). British painter and printmaker. As many Jewish children during the WWII he was sent out of Germany to England; he was eight at that moment. His entire family died in the Nazis concentration camp. From 1947 to 1948 he studied at Borough Polytechnic under David Bomberg where he met Leon Kossoff, his long-term close friend . Both Kossoff and Auerbach, together with older – Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud are often mentioned in one breath as new wave of British figurative painters.

From 1952 to 1955 he studied at the Royal College of Art where he did make an impact since just after graduation he was invited at a one-man show at the Beaux Arts Gallery, London, in 1956. Then he started his long career as an art teacher, first in secondary school and then (from 1968) in art colleges.

Auerbach’s art is deeply humanistic, intimate and thoughtful. He deliberately limits himself to his closest surroundings (the north corner of London, where the painter lives) and a handful of models – his close friends and family. His philosophy on art is that of a deepest possible understanding and assimilation. He often compares himself drawing/painting his models to an actor trying to get inside – to inhabit the character. He treats his gorgeous charcoal drawings as most artists would treat a work on canvas done with paints – he works laboriously and asks his models for dozens of sittings before he is ready to accept the drawing as finished. He is able to spot the slightest variations of tone, line and mood his sitter is in, so he admits to draw dozens images before they freeze under one title. As Leon Kossoff underlines – the drawing is the essence of the Auerbach’s work – done either with charcoal or oils, on paper or canvas – it’s drawing what you see, don’t mind the colours and supports:

Drawing is not a mysterious activity. Drawing is making an image which expresses commitment and involvement. (…) And, whether by scrapping off or rubbing down, it is always beginning again, making new images, destroying images that lie, discarding images that are dead. The only true guide in this search is the special relationship of absorption and internalization, the artist (Frank Auerbach) has with the person or landscape from which he is working. (Leon Kossoff, intro to Auerbach’s catalogue, 1990)

Some of his portraits (and landscapes) have an alarming quality – they look like being set afire but, above that, there is a feeling of great mystery and affirmation – general affirmation of live and of that very particular person/place. It looks like tender love and passion the artist seems to have towards his subjects make them looking fragile and unique despite the strong, sometimes contrasting colours applied in extremely heavy impasto and in broad, expressionistic strokes.

What I find especially compelling about this artist is his level of self-awareness and deep respect towards art – both are well expressed in Frank Auerbach’s thoughts. Here are just few of them:

What I’m not hoping to do is to paint another picture, because there are enough pictures on the world. I’m hoping to do a new thing for the world that remains in mind like a new species of living thing…

Robert Frost … said: “I want the poem to be like ice on a stove – riding on his own melting.” Well, a great painting is like ice on a stove. It’s a shape riding on his own melting into matter and space, it never stops moving backwards and forwards.

All good painting enters some sort of freedom where it exists by its own laws, and inexplicably has got free of all possible explanations. Possibly the explainers will catch up with it again, but never completely…

Here are recommended books for further reading:

– written by friends/sitters of Auerbach – Lambert, C., Rosenthal, N., Carlisle, I, Frank Auerbach, Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, London 2001

Frank Auerbach by Frank Auerbach, London 1990






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