Francis Bacon: Order, chance and the abject body
Silverman, Jennifer M.
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This examination looks at the work of British painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and his desire to portray sensation through the human figure. Bacon’s utilization of the figure put him at odds with the contemporary art movements of his time, particularly Abstract Expressionism which dominated the art world in the 1950s, when Bacon first began painting. Bacon’s relationship with Abstract Expressionism was complicated. While he often vocalized his dislike of the Abstract Expressionists’ work, he also utilized some of their techniques in his work. While Bacon desired an ordered image, it needed to have an element of chance. Therefore he also relied on “free marks” to make his works more spontaneous. While he did not want them to look chaotic, a completely ordered image was boring. So Bacon required a balance between the two, which he referred to as “ordered chance.” French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze wrote extensively of Bacon’s methods and use of “free marks” in his work Francis Bacon and the Logic of Sensation , which has been a critical text for the purposes of this paper. In creating figures that teetered on the edge of abstraction, Bacon believed this created a certain tension which he saw as a critical component to creating sensation in his work. In using the body this way, Bacon also crushed his figures, tearing them apart in order to allow the internal forces on the body out. Here, I argue that one can turn to the writing of Julia Kristeva on the abject in order to gain a better understanding of why Bacon’s figures inspire such horror. Although there has been much writing on Bacon’s figures, there has been no other direct connection with Kristeva’s theory of abjection, which I believe sheds new light on the affect of his paintings on the viewer.