Francis Bacon – Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1965
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A list of figures might go —
- Left panel :
foreground : skinless or transparently skinned legs, from shin down, with feet luridly arched from the heel. a black cat’s paw rests, or flops over, the right shin. the legs rest on a tabular surface / rectangle of red paint.middle : two who look like men with corroded faces. on the left, a man reaching into his pocket, or resting his hands on his lower back. on the right, a man reaching or buckling forward, though his feet are fused. something greenish in his hand.left man’s face looks like a composite of straight on and profile view. touches of photorealism. more precisely, lips painted straight on, upper face in a kind of three quarters view, and shadow in profile. his head holds to his body by a shirt collar. his body blurs away kind of smokily.
right man’s face is smeared, impacted, masklike — like a mask of putty, but cut sharply at the eye sockets. curvatures of paint. where the other’s body burns away, his melts into itself.
note that calling this zone”middle” really means to point to somewhere behind the foreground. justified in describing the space this way because the tabular red looks like it cuts off our view of the man on the left. but there are at least two zones of indiscernibility at this border: one is the blurring of the man’s lower body — what does this really “cut off”? the other comes from noticing that, between the toes, the line that should connect the tabular surface / seat to itself is raised and blurred. this makes it a deliberately unreliable point of perspectival reference. where “foreground” is supposed to overlap with “middleground,” none of the cues work at a micro-level. yet the directionality of the composition also gives reason to think of the legs as foreground — it points up and to the right.
background : a wall / floor meeting that makes the space seem like a room — cylindrical. with all black apertures
- Middle panel :
center : apparently, though with complex fluxes out of figuration — into shape, or somehow amorphous color, or slashes of paint seen as a material — resolved into an uncannily clear image of a hominid’s skull blown open by bullet wounds.bullet holes mark up the bed, echoing circles of aerial bloodthese latter indeterminately “surface”
paint drips might be an expressive index — but this shows how that may be not only simulated, but also worked into a composition that, by envisioning a different world, to some extent genetically cuts itself off from the act of painting
in other words, if the dripped red paint figures a spray of blood, then it belongs to the painting’s “diegesis” — the painting’s enclosure within its own systems of narrative and descriptive motion
but if it’s just a satellite on an orbit relentlessly attracted by yet nonetheless never within and maybe eccentric to that inside system ..
if, that is, we see it as an index of the painter’s immediate world, or something about him, then it belongs to what made the diegesis — not the diegesis itself, but what caused it to be
index : paint drip ; figure : blood spray
Deleuze’s remarks about Bacon’s own phrase — “involuntary free marks,” I think — may be helpful here.
An involuntary free mark doesn’t index anything under the painter’s control. To be sure, that is why it would be called “involuntary” — it would claim to elude the monitoring push of the will, in some way. Or it would be something the body does on reflex. That would put the painting body into a different relation to the body painted. Namely, the painting body would open itself to the painted body as something that’s also “messy” — orifices to the system — and even shattered, if that’s the word, by its act of painting.
Acting involuntarily, here, refers both to the act of marking and what’s marked : the spray of blood.
background : a “room” similar to, but discontinuous with, that which encloses the left panel. This is significant because the crucifixion of 1965 puts the figure in a space that’s continuous across all three panels.