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.