The round area and its analogues - Distinction between the Figure and the figurative - The fact - The question of "matters of fact" - The three elements of painting: structure, Figure, and contour - Role of the fields
A round area often delimits the place where the person that is to say, the Figure is seated, lying down, doubled over, or in some other position. This round or oval area takes up more or less space: it can extend beyond the edges of the painting [64, 37] or occupy the center of a triptych [60, 61]. It is often duplicated, or even replaced, by the roundness of the chair on which the person is seated, or by the oval of the bed on which the person is lying. It can be dispersed in the small disks that surround a part of the person's body, or in the gyratory spirals that encircle the bodies. Even the two peasants in Two Men Working in a Field  form a Figure only in relation to an awkward plot of land, tightly confined within the oval of a pot. In short, the painting is composed like a circus ring, a kind of amphitheater as "place." It is a very simple technique that consists in isolating the Figure. There are other techniques of isolation: putting the Figure inside a cube, or rather, inside a parallelepiped of glass or ice [6, 55]; sticking it onto a rail or a stretch-out bar, as if on the magnetic arc of an infinite circle ; or combining all these means - the round area, the cube, and the bar - as in Bacon's strangely flared and curved armchairs . These are all "places" [lieux]. In any case, Bacon does not hide the fact that these techniques are rather rudimentary, despite the subtlety of their combinations. The important point is that they do not consign the Figure to immobility but, on the contrary, render sensible a kind of progression, an exploration of the Figure within the place, or upon itself. It is an operative field. The relation of the Figure to its isolating place defines a "fact": "the fact is ...," "what takes place is ...." Thus isolated, the Figure becomes an Image, an Icon.
Not only is the painting an isolated reality, and not only does the triptych have three isolated panels (which above all must not be united in a single frame), but the Figure itself is isolated in the painting by the round area or the parallelepiped. Why? Bacon often explains that it is to avoid the figurative, illustrative, and narrative character the Figure would necessarily have if it were not isolated. Painting has neither a model to represent nor a story to narrate. It thus has two possible ways of escaping the figurative: toward pure form, through abstraction; or toward the purely figural, through extraction or isolation. If the painter keeps to the Figure, if he or she opts for the second path, it will be to oppose the "figural" to the figurative. Isolating the Figure will be the primary requirement. The figurative (representation) implies the relationship of an image to an object that it is supposed to illustrate; but it also implies the relationship of an image to other images in a composite whole which assigns a specific object to each of them. Narration is the correlate of illustration. A story always slips into, or tends to slip into, the space between two figures in order to animate the illustrated whole.2 Isolation is thus the simplest means, necessary though not sufficient, to break with representation, to disrupt narration, to escape illustration, to liberate the Figure: to stick to the fact.
Clearly the problem is more complicated than this. Is there not another type of relationship between Figures, one that would not be narrative, and from which no figuration would follow? Diverse Figures that would spring from the same fact, that would belong to one and the same unique fact rather than telling a story or referring to different objects in a figurative whole? Nonnarrative relationships between Figures, and nonillustrative relationships between the Figures and the fact? Coupled Figures have always been a part of Bacon's work, but they do not tell a story [60, 61, 66]. Moreover, there is a relationship of great intensity between the separate panels of a triptych, although this relationship has nothing narrative about it [55, 62, 38]. With modesty, Bacon acknowledges that classical painting often succeeded in drawing this other type of relationship between Figures, and that this is still the task of the painting of the future:
Of course, so many of the greatest paintings have been done with a number of figures on a canvas, and of course every painter longs to do that .... But the story that is already being told between one figure and another begins to cancel out the possibilities of what can be done with the paint on its own. And this is a very great difficulty. But at any moment somebody will come along and be able to put a number of figures on a canvas."
What is this other type of relationship, a relationship between coupled or distinct Figures? Let us call these new relationships matters of fact, 4 as opposed to intelligible relations (of objects or ideas). Even if we acknowledge that, to a large degree, Bacon had already conquered this domain, he did so under more complex aspects than those we have yet considered.
We are still at the simple aspect of isolation. A Figure is isolated within a ring, upon a chair, bed, or sofa, inside a circle or parallelepiped. It occupies only a part of the painting. What then fills the rest of the painting? A certain number of possibilities are already annulled, or without interest, for Bacon. What fills the rest of the painting will be neither a landscape as the correlate of the Figure, nor a ground from which the form will emerge, nor a formless chiaroscuro, a thickness of color on which shadows would play, a texture on which variation would play. Yet we are moving ahead too quickly. For there are indeed, in Bacon's early works, landscape-Figures like the Van Gogh of 1957 ; there are extremely shaded textures, as in Figure in a Landscape (1945)  and Figure Study I (1945-6) ; there are thicknesses and densities like those of Head II (1949) ; and above all, there is that alleged period of ten years which, according to Sylvester, was dominated by the somber, the dark, and the tonal, before Bacon returned to the "clear and precise."5 But destiny can sometimes pass through detours that seem to contradict it. For Bacon's landscapes are a preparation for what will later appear as a set of short "involuntary free marks" lining the canvas, asignifying traits^ that are devoid of any illustrative or narrative function: hence the importance of grass, and the irremediably grassy character of these landscapes (Landscape, 1952 ; Study of a Figure in a Landscape, 1952 ; Study of a Baboon, 1953 ; Two Figures in the Grass, 1954 ). As for the textures, the thick, the dark, and the blurry, they are already preparing for the great technique of local scrubbing [nettoyage local] with a rag, handbroom, or brush, in which the thickness is spread out over a nonfigurative zone. Clearly these two techniques of local scrubbing and asignifying traits belong to an original system which is neither that of the landscape, nor that of the formless or the ground (although, by virtue of their autonomy, they are apt to "make" a landscape or to "make" a ground, or even to "make" darkness).
In fact, the rest of the painting is systematically occupied by large fields [aplats] of bright, uniform, and motionless color. Thin and hard, these fields have a structuring and spatializing function. They are not beneath, behind, or beyond the Figure, but are strictly to the side of it, or rather, all around it, and are thus grasped in a close view, a tactile or "haptic" view, just as the Figure itself is. At this stage, when one moves from the Figure to the fields of color, there is no relation of depth or distance, no incertitude of light and shadow. Even the shadows and the blacks are not dark ("I tried to make the shadows as present as the Figure"). If the fields function as a background, they do so by virtue of their strict correlation with the Figures. It is the correlation of two sectors on a single plane, equally close. This correlation, this connection, is itself provided by the place, by the ring or round area, which is the common limit of the two, their contour. This is what Bacon says in a very important statement to which we will frequently recur. He distinguishes three fundamental elements in his painting, which are the material structure, the round contour, and the raised image. If we think in sculptural terms, we would have to say: the armature; the pedestal, which would be mobile; and the Figure, which would move along the armature together with the pedestal. If we had to illustrate them (and to a certain degree this is necessary, as in the Man with Dog of 1953 ), we would say: a sidewalk, some pools, and the people who emerge from the pools on the way to their "daily round."
We will see later what the various elements of this system have to do with Egyptian art, Byzantine art, and so forth. But what concerns us here is this absolute proximity, this co-precision, of the field that functions as a ground, and the Figure that functions as a form, on a single plane that is viewed at close range. It is this system, this coexistence of two immediately adjacent sectors, which encloses space, which constitutes an absolutely closed and revolving space, much more so than if one had proceeded with the somber, the dark, or the indistinct. This is why there is indeed a certain blurriness in Bacon; there are even two kinds of blurriness, but they both belong to this highly precise system. In the first case, the blur is obtained not by indistinctness, but on the contrary by the operation that "consists in destroying clarity by clarity,"9 as in the man with the pig's head in the Self-Portrait of 1973 , or the treatment of crumpled newspapers: as Leiris says, their typographic characters are clearly drawn, and it is their very mechanical precision that stands opposed to their legibility.10 In the other case, the blur is obtained by the techniques of free marks or scrubbing, both of which are also among the precise elements of the system. (We will see that there is yet a third case.)
GILLES DELEUZE: Francis Bacon: the logic of sensation/Chapter 1: The Round area, The Ring
Translated from the French by Daniel W. Smith
This work is published with the support of the French Ministry of Culture Centre National du Livre.