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Francis Bacon, Tate, London (1985)

Tate Gallery, London. 22 May 1985-18 August 1985

Essay by Dawn Ades


Extract taken from the Francis Bacon exhibition catalogue. Reproduced with kind permission of Tate.



'Bacon's use of accident and chance, his natural acceptance of the transforming and motivating powers of the unconscious, can in a sense be related to Surrealism, but they do not come out as a commitment to the Surrealists' ideas and beliefs in any systematic way. His use of chance of marks, and of accident, has a different genesis and is subject to different procedures from Surrealist automatism or from Duchamp's controlled philosophical experiments with chance. While the Surrealists aimed to 'trap' images from the unconscious through automatic drawing, or in the unwilled figurations thrown up by techniques like frottage, images which could have the character of revelation and of the marvellous about them, Bacon is not interested in quarrying the unconscious in this sense. He may at any point in a painting make random paint marks - throwing, scrubbing or sponging the paint (or all three), sometimes to break a spell when the painting is not going well, or to destroy the conventional, the pictorial cliché ('half my painting is disrupting what I can do with ease'). In some ways this is only to intensify the already unpredictable behaviour of the fluid medium of paint. He may at the last minute add a streak or dash of randomly splashed paint - then either leave it or not. It is not a matter of accepting unquestionably what chance or the unconscious throws up and valuing it then for its own sake. If the random marks work, it is because they have a 'kind of inevitability' about them, and the result in the end is a balance between immediacy and control.'