Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach

In my infancy I used to say that what Francis Bacon was doing in painting, Samuel Beckett (Comment c´est) was doing in literature and Swans in popular music: Showing that the body/the subject/the individual is constituted by forces/flows/streams (of desire) that are older than the subject, that distort it in its compactness and that trangress it (with or without elevating it to catharsis) and that remain after its demise, i.e. the body/subject as a condensation/force field/way station/relay of forces that come from the outside/primordial chaos/nature/culture, constitute some kind of semi-self-referential loop and then, after demise, fall apart and combine anew – the entity formed by/being a way station for streams of desire crawling through greater streams of mud, decomposing: that´s How It Is. A reading of Lacan (and Schopenhauer) favors such a perspective – and of Deleuze who wrote a cool book investigating how Bacon´s art is about making invisible forces (that stem out of „the virtual“) visible. The subject/body as a force field … Numerous other connotations come to mind with Bacon: A „sinister“ painter (contrasted by the personal appearance of a jovial hedonist) who seems to make existential horror and crucifixation explicit – respectively (as an ultimate mode of being affected) vulnerability / and who establishes „zones of indistiguishability“ between man and animal (suffering, tormented man becomes animal / suffering, tormented animal becomes man) and, possibly, a communion of living creature. The erection of (apparently frail and multidimensional and enigmatic) figure within a historical context dominated by abstraction. A figure ghost-like and robust like the artist himself. References to van Gogh by a similarly intense painter, who solitarily creates out of himself. The idea of the body that wants to get „rid of itself“ (most notably exemplified in the Scream motif) and wants to transform into something else (but, obviously, can´t quite). A novel depiction of contour (in an interplay with occasionally violent brushwork). – David Sylvester complains that the relationship between motif and background is a bit unpleasant with Bacon: But herein Bacon is also some kind of originator: The background is nothing the figure emerges from or whatever: The background isolates and depicts the figure: You can also ruminate whether it is meant to express the neutrality of the many forces of the world with which the figure will never interact – at any rate: What a fabulous background! What beauty of colours! (You have to see the paintings in the original to get adequate idea.) Great Monoliths.

Francis Bacon, Lucian Freund and Frank Auerbach were friends and influenced each other and were dominating figures in the english art scene of their time. Cross out Francis Bacon, and there remains Lucian Freund and Frank Auerbach. – Lucian Freud was a grandchild of Sigmund and, as a chaser of girls, produced numerous offspring of his own. He was described as „electric“, „breathing like an animal“, and „feeling free to do whatever he liked“. As a figurative painter he rose to full maturity when he combined the violent brushwork of Francis Bacon with sharpness of contour and immersion into detail. Freud gets intensely close to his sitters, has an invasive gaze, often portrays them in unusual, and frail, positions. He himself claims that he would like his portraits to actually be the persons portrayed, and that his colour functions as skin – and at any rate, the portraits seem close and the skin seems so thin that you think it could tear apart and the body mass could fall out – while at the same time it is stabilised by the many folds and brushstrokes. However, his paintings seem quite ambivalent, and actually more uncanny than Bacon´s. Freud´s personnel doesn´t exactly deliver a spiritual impression. Their individuality derives from peculiar looks (at the verge of oddity) and unusual gestures. They´re individual but appear relatively empty (and stupid!), they usually look down and seem uncomfortable when confronted with the invasive gaze of the painter at their supposedly innermost secret (note however that they´re captured in the way sitters look like after long sessions – silently annoyed and fatigued). When they´re together in a room there seems to be no true bond between them, respectively that the bond between them seems to be one of shame or guilt or a dirty (though not sensational) secret that has to be hidden behind closed doors. Isolated individuals. – As a child, Lucian liked to be alone, and he preferred animals (horses) over people. He did not treat his first wife good and was a controlling, maybe sadistic husband (who could not, however, dominate his second wife so easily). When painting others he „wanted to see the whole animal“, and he said a lot of his sitters „are girls who have some sort of holes in their lives that is filled by posing for an artist“. He had a difficult relationship with his intrusive mother but could handle her and painted her when after the death of her husband she was a shadow of herself. – Sylvester asked Francis Bacon whether he would provoke feelings of ambiguity in his sitters he did not portray so favorably – but with Freud this seems to be more at hand. Freud´s portrayal of man provokes empathy and  remind us of taking the other as an individual (maybe even in a Levinasian sense), but they´re also humiliating, even if that´s a portrayal of the human condition. When Freud painted the Queen (over a period of 19 months), the Queen was not amused about the product (although it is actually one of the more favorable portraits in Lucian´s oeuvre).

Francis Bacon, Lucian Freund and Frank Auerbach were friends and influenced each other and were dominating figures in the english art scene of their time. Cross out Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, and there remains Frank Auerbach. Like Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach was a (German) jew whose family had to flee the Nazis, and they settled to England, where he would study under David Bomberg (who had been a celebrated painter in his younger years but, due to his intellectual and creative versatility, annoyed and overcharged art critics and so became „the most brutally excluded artist in Britian“ – described as the most intelligent man of the academy, Bomberg was „certainly no one who deliberately wanted to impress someone“ but an authentic man). Although Auerbach´s individual works are often highly different from each other, his general style (or: stylistic approach) has not changed much over the decades. His motives are sparse in variety as he mainly paints scenes in London/Camden and portraits. He maintains a small circle of sitters who he may portray over and over again. Although his intention is to get to the „essence“ of the sitter, the portaits of the same sitter are often extremely distinguished from each other – and often he would work on a painting for a very long time, painting layer over layer. Auerbach´s ability to create a comprehensive portrait out of blunt brushwork and colour fields is amazing, yet often the density of layers is what is most striking (making his paintings occasionally very heavy and difficult to exhibit) – through the layers the paintings gain haptic quality, and remind us of the multiple layers of reality/perception as well as the sheer materiality of the physical world. – Bacon rose to fame (relatively) early (in the 1950s), Freud in the last quarter of his life, Auerbach is the least popular of them. His constant investigation of painting and his high versatility seems to have prevented a signature style or his stuff becoming iconic. – I mean, if you have an intelligence for the arts you will understand that in a virtual painting there is a fluctuation and a vibration/vibrating intensity between different layers respectively between the actualised and the virtual. That brings stuff into motion. This is how an artwork „lives“ and is brought to life. And that´s how you have it in Auerbach paintings who takes this eventuality of getting a grasp on art to very extremes. Auerbach eventually/primordially sees the world as chaos, and the task of the painter as to impose order. Auerbach is interested in „raw“ perception, and, so to say, in an immediate dialogue with the audience which forms the image partially on own terms. A „continuum of perception“. He solidifies form which carries the possibility of its dissolution within itself and offers perceptions that include their own variations. – In this radical approach, Auerbach considers himself a loner (within schools and trends in painting) and a workaholic who seemingly never stops adding the next layer.

„When I saw Frank Auerbach´s works for the first time, I thought that there was really happening something new and extraordinary, and that´s what actually happened … Wonderful portraits in dense colour – but he could not sell any of them at that time. I often ask myself how many people have an eye for art at all. They buy when an artist is famous – and probably does not create his best works anymore. But when something wonderful and innovative happens, they don´t see it.“ (Francis Bacon, Interview with Michael Peppiat, 1897; translated from German back to English by me, fuck off)