Art Formation Status

In the darkened corridor with purple walls I tried to make some notes about the artworks on display; the shuddering electronic landscapes of ‘Desire’ and the laboratory-type atmosphere of ‘Deception’, the ideas of memory and the way it reminded me of the weird structures we see in the electron microscope where everything is jagged and luminous.


…as an artist you have to, in a sense, set a trap by which you hope to trap the living fact alive.”
(David Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1975, rev 1987: Thames and Hudson)

This book consists of 208 pages and includes 146 illustrations. Back in ’75 it would have been an expensive undertaking to have colour plates in a textbook, which might explain the decision to use only B&W pictures. However, the illustrations are meant to hint at the pictures discussed in the text; the book is written for people who are already familiar with Bacon’s life and work, and there is no benefit in spending money on colour prints when these images can be viewed elsewhere.
The frontspiece does not even mention the fact that all the illustrations are monochrome.

Does the absence of colour diminish the pictures, or does it convert each image into something new – an alternative version of an established idea? If a young reader spent hours reading this book and exploring the illustrations, they would develop a certain kind of understanding of who Bacon was and how his pictures looked. When that youngster then finds themselves on a school trip to the Tate, and for the first time encounters the actual paintings, grand and colourful, their impressions will be a mixture of the familiar and the shocking.

The back cover of the book carries a brief summary of the project – the edited interviews and resulting profile of the artist. Printed in a subtle metallic pink-bronze colour, design attributed to Martin Andersen. Apart from this, no other trace of colour appears anywhere in the book, a defiantly dull monolith of explanation.

Quotes from the interviews:
And that early painting in the Tate Gallery of Eric Hall in which his suit looks immaculate is painted with dust. Actually there is no paint at all on the suit apart from a very thin grey wash on which I put dust from the floor.” (Interview 9)
I think of life as meaningless; but we give it meaning through our own existence. We create certain attitudes which give it a meaning while we exist, though they in themselves are meaningless, really.” (Interview 5)

Information management: information is the stuff about stuff, not the things or goods or services or ideas but the aspects which enable us to define the things and establish their significance and specify their location and catalogue their properties.
Information must be generated, stored, retrieved, transmitted, received, decoded and acted upon. Each of these processes can be impaired or corrupted, accidentally or by design. Too much information is as bad as not enough. A blizzard of facts and explanatory footnotes, each of them becoming more and more peripheral to the subject, will prevent us from taking the required action.

The reproduction of ‘Triptych 1986-7’ is a piece of information, and the fact that this is a B-&-W image is another piece of information, and the fact that there exists an original version in coloured oil-paint is yet another piece of information. Further elements of information exist in the identity of the sitter and the appearance of cricket-pads. As more facts are uncovered or included, we can establish the hierarchy of Data-Capta-Information-Awareness-Knowledge-Understanding-Wisdom.

Bacon’s work seems almost entirely concerned with the human form, and the avalanche of psychological torment that he perceived in the world at large. In contrast to this we have Lowry, whose paintings are populated by crowds of anonymous figures drifting in unison to a football match or a warehouse mill. Towering over the people are the stern factory chimneys, pinned against a dull white sky and terracotta streets. Francis Bacon slashed the painted sheet; he never made a sculpted heart that floated in a tank, forever being chased in circles by its own reflected self.

Lowry’s works are all pencil, charcoal or oils; his colour palette seems to be mainly black, white and red, and he could never imagine that one day a gallery and theatre complex in Salford would bear his name.
At the Lowry Arts Centre we had a recent exhibition called ‘The State of Us’ which included video installations, vintage editions of Marvel comic magazines, and sculptures where synthetic hearts or artificial limbs sleep in flasks of clear liquid. Other works include ‘Until I Die’, a set of chandeliers which make use of (originally real) human blood to generate electricity, and ‘The Tides Within Us’, a set of enigmatic images in black and grey, with infinitely fine strands of white creating depth and texture.

The Tree Enters The Street

There was a weather-beaten old sailor who went by the name of Tim Bobbin, from his drollery; and he lived on the west coast, not a great way from the town of Falmouth, at a place called Whirligig Ferry.”
William Martin, ‘The Adventures of a Sailor Boy’, Gall & Inglis c.1895

The Tim Bobbin pub, in Urmston; we used to call in here sometimes before heading off to the Deccan Indian Restaurant. A painting in the corner, semi-abstract oils, might be a sunrise or something nuclear taking place above a heavily-populated town. I have been drinking here, on and off, for about fifteen years now. I have walked this street like a ghost, sometimes in a well-paid job, sometimes as an unemployed scrounger. The picture remains, it watches me as I eat, it listens to the conversations in my head, I wonder about the married men who call in here and scan the other customers through a grating of lust, able to discern by interference fringes all those clients who might be up for it. Everybody knows, but none of them can say what’s on their mind.

Perhaps they will replace the painting – or cover it up – with a kombucha membrane, like a scroll of shimmering parchment, bearing the text of Wallace Stevens’ Tea at the Palaz of Hoon. The membrane will be seeded with invisible grains brushed from a hardbound book last read in 1785, the spores will germinate and cause erotic patterns to emerge, eating the poem. Gradually, the decay will spell out odd words: inky spit floppy disq vox gerl.

The Tree Enters the Street

I told the street: ‘Don’t worry ‘bout
The tarmac souls and cobbled dreams that people
Hang outside their empty windows. It’s

Never gonna be as cold as you expect. I hear
The lines of street converge
Upon the sequence of a tree.

Unless, until the purple shadow
Waits behind a tree that holds the air
We shall not understand the swarming dark.

The slender juice of interferon
Inhales a flask that echoes like
The shadow of a honey-coloured bowl

The silken mask is woven from the air and
Set adrift by honeycombs of coal. We’ll never know
How much the trees will leave behind.

A pillar of black flame stands guard
At one end; won’t let you look away.
Here’s my advice; just focus on the tree.

…so we are making our way along Oldham Road past the Victorian warehouse mills which are being transformed into luxury apartments and a brand new development is taking place. The Bohemian character of the district is fighting back with an occasional artistic poster on display, usually a pastiche of some iconic modern work. This morning it was the turn of Elgort, Norcross and Heiden. In the movie adaptation of ‘Silence of the Lambs’, Catherine Martin has a ‘Def Dumb and Blonde’ poster on her bedroom wall.


Black Windows Price Elizabeth

‘A Long Memory’, Elizabeth Price (Whitworth Gallery, Manchester) 

A parade of uniform black windows; I’m not sure what we are meant to be observing. Does some landscape hide there in the dark? I wander up to take a closer look; each regular plane is faintly marked with ripples, barely perceptible.

The framed black sheets have been masked and then marked with water, to create the image of letters. They spell out words: inky spit floppy disq vox gerl. Perhaps these are the stations of the cross that you would visit in the Chapel of Plutranomides.

I have been captivated in the past by other black images; at Leeds Art Gallery I once saw a painting which comprised a patch of glossy black laid over a matt black square. The Whitworth carried a display called the Death of Painting, five dead black squares. Somewhere, a team of chemists is building a metascreen with carbon nanotubes, to suck the light out of a room when it is unveiled.

When I see the black rectangles, it reminds me of my mate Malcolm; he once mentioned that the Queen always uses black blotting-paper, in order to stop anybody trying to read the contents of her letters.

Playing cards made of beautiful black plastic, with the suits and pictures marked out in gloss on a semi-matt ground. If the polymer was graphene-based, the cards themselves could be incredibly thin; a complete deck would occupy about two millimetres.

And then we pass into a darkened room where images of hoist frame machines are used to evoke the history of mining; the original pictures were taken and printed by Albert Walker, a retired coal worker.


Later on that day, I have an argument with a stranger; he is convinced that the new convention of alphabetical chemical formulae is a tragic step which obscures the essential character of each compound. Sodium chloride should be NaCl, not ClNa. In the future, computers will identify each compound as itself, not as a collection of individual elements. Not defined by what they are made from, but by what potential and activity functions they display.

Early on Saturday morning I make my way through Manchester to work; deserted streets allow me to admire the familiar buildings anew, and I start to discern some new textures and patterns on the warehouse walls. Perhaps these designs appear overnight and gradually fade as light takes hold.
Or the buildings are crumpled after a wild night drinking, and their walls get hung up at dawn to let the creases drop out.