February 15, 2006

Francis Bacon and the Diagram

Deleuze & Guattari’s aspiration for philosophy is for philosophy to ‘become worthy of the event’, an aim that requires that we turn toward the pre-individual field of the virtual. It is precisely such a move that Deleuze and Guattari identify as occuring within the work of art. For them the aim or task for art is to elaborate a composed capture of chaos as sensation, to construct a 'monument' which exists, in itself, as a composition independent of the viewer or the creator – ‘a compound of percepts and affects’ that is a ‘bloc of sensations’ that has a reality in the absence of human perception and affection. This move signifies a demand to give up the habits of thought and of perception that mark human experience and to go beyond that turn. The notion that art exists as a distinct alternative reality demands that the concern of a theory of painting turn to the problem of painting’s own material specificity and the reconfiguration of pictorial space that that entails. Thus, there is a concern with what the material of painting can do, rather than with what it means or represents. In the exploration of the power of paint the great painters of modern abstraction, like Klee, Mondrian and Pollock, move away from the figurative to abstraction in order to work with the pure elements of painting – colour and line. They produce catastrophes in colour; paintings which disturb and disrupt the order and form of representation and force us to see, if we are looking, new hallucinatory spaces and new morphological images. What follows is a profound disruption of phenomenological perception. For Deleuze this is a revolution that takes painting from a logic of representation toward a pure logic of sensation – to the line that takes a walk, and the Figure that emerges from the chaosgerm of the ‘Diagram’, or what Bacon refers to in the interviews with David Sylvester as the ‘Graph’:

‘Very often the involuntary marks are much more deeply suggestive than others, and those are the moments when you feel that anything can happen…The marks are made, and you survey the thing like you would a sort of graph. And you see within this graph the possibilities of all types of fact being planted. This is a difficult thing…Isn’t it that one wants a thing to be as factual as possible and at the same time as deeply suggestive or deeply unlocking of areas of sensation other than simple illustration of the object that you set out to do? Isn’t that what all art is about?’ (The Brutality of Fact, p. 56)

For Deleuze the ‘Diagram’ (or ‘Graph’) is that which allows the emergence of another possible world in a work of art. The marks associated with the elaboration of a ‘Diagram’ are irrational, involuntary, accidental, free, random. Deleuze claims that it is as if the artist’s hand assumes an independence and began to be guided by other forces, making marks that no longer depend upon either the artist’s will or sight. Such almost blind manual marks attest to the intrusion of another world into the visual world of figuration. Bacon claims:

‘Half my painting activity is disrupting what I can do with ease.’ (The Brutality of Fact, p. 91)

The ‘Diagram’, whilst a chaos, a catastrophe, is also a germ of order or of rhythm. It is a violent chaos in relation to the figurative givens, but it is a germ of rhythm in relation to the new order of the painting. As Bacon says, it ‘unlocks areas of sensation’:

‘In the way I work I don’t in fact know very often what the paint will do, and it does many things which are very much better than I could make it do. Is that an accident? Perhaps one could say it’s not an accident, because it becomes a selective process which part of this accident one chooses to preserve. One is attempting, of course, to keep the vitality of the accident and yet preserve a continuity…What has never yet been analysed is why this particular way of painting is more poignant than illustration. I suppose because it has a life completely of its own. It lives on its own, like the image one’s trying to trap; it lives on its own, and therefore transfers the essence of the image more poignantly. So that the artist may be able to open up or rather, should I say, unlock the valves of feeling and therefore return the onlooker to life more violently…There is a possibility that you get through this accidental thing something much more profound than what you really wanted.’ (The Brutality of Fact, p. 17)

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