Critical and Theoretical Perspectives
Martin Hammer Contradiction and Continuity in the Art of Francis Bacon
In this paper I wish to step back from the claims about expressive inten- sity and strong content that are usually at the forefront of critical and art-historical commentary on the work of Francis Bacon. Instead I shall focus on the pictorial mechanics of his work. This approach at least has the merit of raising some fresh and interesting questions about his art, such as how were the paintings produced, practically speaking, and what distinctive pictorial sensations do they of fer the viewer? How, in addition, is meaning embedded in the visual language of his pictures, extending to his recurrent preferences for series and triptych formats? In 1953, Bacon famously proclaimed that Matthew Smith was ‘one of the very few English painters since Constable and Turner to be concerned with painting – that is, with attempting to make idea and technique inseparable. Painting in this sense tends towards a complete interlocking of image and paint, so that the image is the paint and vice versa’ (Bacon, 1953: 12). In Bacon too, albeit in a very dif ferent manner, image and paint need to be seen as interlocked rather than distinct, within the processes of both making and viewing. To that end, I want to focus on elements of continuity and recycling in his art. Contrary to the myth of permanent revolution, art historians have begun to explore repetition as a wider phenomenon within the production of art in the modern period, providing a context for estimating how it functions in Bacon...
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