Category Archives: MAMO Research

All things of interest I’ve read and seen

Francis Bacon On Velasquez’s Pope And Photographs

From Interviews with Francis Bacon
DS David Sylvester – FB Francis Bacon

Pg 24

Bacon talking about Velasquez Pope Innocent X 1650.

DS…you do in fact paint other pictures which are connected to religion (apart from the Crucifixion he painted several Popes).

…But why is it you chose the Pope?

FB Because I think it is one of the greatest portraits that have ever been made, and I become obsessed by it…it haunts me, and it opens up all sorts of feelings and areas of – I was going to say – imagination…

Links to existing images generating new ideas through the act of observevation, also Duchamps idea that the view changes a work of art by coming to it.

Bacon paspsort

Pg 30

FB…99% of the time I find that photographs are very much more interesting than either abstract or figurative painting. I’ve always been haunted by them.

DS Do you know what it is especially that haunts you about them?…

FB I think it’s the slight remove from fact, which returns me onto the fact more violently. Through the photographic image I find myself beginning to wander into the image and unlock what I think of as its reality more than I can by looking at it. (Photographs) are often triggers for ideas.

DS I suppose the Muybridge’s are the photographs you’ve made use of the most continually.

FB Well, of course, they were an attempt to make a recording of human motion – a dictionary, in a sense. And the thing of doing series may possibly have come from looking at those books of Muybridge with the stages of a movement shown in separate photographs….


Pg 38

DS…in recent years, when you’ve planned to do a painting of somebody, I believe you’ve tended to have a set of photographs taken especially.

FB…I very much prefer working from the photographs than from them (the actual person)…I find it easier to work than actually having their presence in the room…if I have the presence of the image there (the actual person in the room), I may not able to drift so freely as I am able to through the photographic image…I find it less inhibiting to work from them through memory and their photographs than actually having them seated there before me.

DS You prefer to be alone?

FB Totally alone. With their memory.

….What I want to do is distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance.


DS Are you saying that painting is almost a way of bringing somebody back, that the process of painting is almost like the process of recalling?

FB I am saying that…

Velasquez’s Dwarf painting is almost alive and what he says earlier in section about his memory (or imagination) used in conjunction with photos to invoke the person.

Interviews with Francis Bacon
By David Sylvester
Thames and Hudson
Reprinted 2008
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Francis Bacon On The Ambiguities Of Paint In Painting

francis bacon close

From Interviews with Francis Bacon
DS David Sylvester – FB Francis Bacon

Pg 17

DS What is it above all that happens with the paint? Is it the kind of ambiguities that it produces?


FB And the suggestions. When I was trying in despair the other day to paint that head of a specific person, I used a very big brush and a great deal of paint and I put it on very, very freely, and I simply didn’t know in the end what I was doing, and suddenly this thing clicked, and became exactly like this image I was trying to record. But not out of any conscious will, nor was it anything to do with illustrational painting.

What has never been analysed is why this particular way of painting is more poignant than illustration. I suppose because it has a life 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.

Bacon Portraits

….there is a possibility that you get through this accidental thing something much more profound than what you really wanted.

I think I tend to destroy the better paintings, or those that have been better to a certain extent. I try and take them further, and they lose all their qualities, and they lose everything. I think I would say that I tend to destroy all the better paintings.

Interviews with Francis Bacon
By David Sylvester
Thames and Hudson
Reprinted 2008
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Francis Bacon And The Influence Of Cimabue’s Crucifixion Paintng

three-studies-for-a-crucifixion-1962From Interviews with Francis Bacon
DS David Sylvester – FB Francis Bacon

Pg 14

About Three Studies for a Crucifixion 1962

FB The figure on the right is something I have wanted to do for a long time. You know the great Cimabue Crucifixion? I always think of that as an image – as a worm crawling down the cross. I did try to make something of the feeling which I’ve sometimes had from that picture of this image just moving, undulating down the cross.

DS And of course this (right hand panel of Three Studies for a Crucifixion 1962) is one of a number of existing images you’ve used.

FB Yes, they breed other images for me. And of course one’s always hoping to renew them.

DS…can you generalise about how far you foresee these transformations of existing images before you begin a canvas and how far they happen in the course of painting?

FB You know in the case of all my painting – and the older I get, the more it becomes so – is accident. So I foresee it in my mind, I foresee it, and yet I hardly ever carry it out as I foresee it. It transforms itself by the actual paint.

Interviews with Francis Bacon
By David Sylvester
Thames and Hudson
Reprinted 2008
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Francis Bacon – Luck, Accidents and Changing Images

Painting 1946

From Interviews with Francis Bacon
DS David Sylvester – FB Francis Bacon

Pg 11

FB…one of the pictures I did in 1946, the one like a butcher’s shop, came to me as an accident. I was attempting to make a bird alighting in a field. And it may have been bound up in some way with the other three forms that had gone before (Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion 1944), but suddenly the lines that I’d drawn suggested something totally different, and out of this suggestion arose this picture. I had no intention to do this picture; I never thought of it in that way. It was like a continuous accident on top of another

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion c.1944 Francis Bacon 1909-1992 Presented by Eric Hall 1953

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion c.1944 Francis Bacon 1909-1992 Presented by Eric Hall 1953

DS Did the bird alighting suggest an umbrella or what?

FB It suddenly suggested an opening-up into another area of feeling altogether. And then I made these things, I gradually made them. So that I don’t think the bird suggested the umbrella; it suddenly suggested the whole image. And I carried it out very quickly, in about three or four days.

DS It often happens, does it, this transformation of the image in the course of working?

FB It does, but now I always hope it will arrive more positively. Now I feel that I want to do very, very specific objects, though made of something which is completely irrational from the point of view of being an illustration. I want to do very specific things like portraits, and they will be portraits of the people, but, when you come to analyse them, you just don’t know – or it would be very hard to see – how the image was made up at all. And this is why in a way it is very wearing, because it is really a complete accident.


DS An accident in what sense?

FB Because I don’t know how the form can be made. For instance, the other day I painted a head of Somebody, and what made the sockets of the eyes, the nose, the mouth were, when you analysed them, just forms which had nothing to do with eyes, nose, mouth; but the paint moving from one contour into another made a likeness of this person I was trying to paint. I stopped; I thought for a moment I’d got something much nearer to what I want. Then the next day I tried to take it further and tried to make it more poignant, more near, and I lost the image completely. Because this image is a kind of tightrope walk between what is called figurative painting and abstraction…It’s an attempt to bring the figurative thing up onto the nervous system more violently and more poignantly.

Interviews with Francis Bacon
By David Sylvester
Thames and Hudson
Reprinted 2008
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Bowie on the Intrnet, Art, Artists and Viewer


Broadcast on Newsnight BBC in 1999, interviewed by Jeremy Paxman

On the effect the internet will have

‘’……the actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can really envisage at the moment’’

‘’Where the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in-simpatico it’s going to crash our ideas of what mediums are all about.’’

On art

‘’People like Duchamp were so prescient….the idea that the piece of work is not finished until the audience come to it and add their own interpretation….What the piece of art is about is the grey space in the middle’’

‘’The grey space in the middle is what the 21st Century’s going to be about’’ – Note; and so will our class.



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Roy Oxlade on Matisse’s drawings

The most telling observation about pre-historic art in relation to the art of our own time was made by Matisse in 1952 in an interview with Andre Verdet. Matisse said he loved the arabesque ‘because it’s the most synthetic way to express oneself in all ones aspect. You find in the general outline of certain cave drawings. It is the impassioned impulse which swells these drawings.’ The words used here, awkward in translation, need to be looked at. First, and straightforwardly enough, Matisse assumes that, for the artist, drawing is concerned with expression; ‘in all one’s aspects’ I take to indicate an attitude of totality, a complete absorption, a losing of oneself in the action of drawing.

Line is the most economical and direct outcome of the interplay between hand eye and mind.

The drawing owes its being to a spontaneous synthesis – an event which Matisse calls an impassioned impulse. Could you call the drawing an impetuous dance, is this why Matisse used the word arabesque? Other definitions of the word, liking it to ornamentation are obviously inappropriate: cave drawing is marked by its simplicity. Matisse is careful to say ‘certain’ cave drawings; there is a qualitative principle at stake. Then it is only through the ‘impassioned impulse’ that the drawing will ‘swell.’ This is, I think, a very important part of the statement, I don’t think ‘swell’ necessarily means a flattening out, although in some instances it could do, but I believe it is intended to mean a springing into satisfactory form from what otherwise would be flat. To speak of the sense in which the drawing can be said to ‘spring into’’ place or ‘arrive’ is to call attention to its non-preconceived nature. The drawing, unknown to the artist until it emerges, comes out of a controlled wildness. Control and wildness, otherwise antithetical terms, unite paradoxically to describe the liberated working mood familiar to artists and others who rely upon bringing together of intuitive resources. This is what Matisse means when he talks about the impassioned impulse. Perhaps, the French passionne carries a less extravagant tone and allows for a necessary and compensating balance of subliminal restraint. Apart from the evidence of the drawings themselves you have only to think of photographs and films made of Matisse at work to be sure that there was nothing of the Pollock about him.

None of the above (text, not video), offered to some degrees as the introduction to a criterion, seems to me to be in any way evident in the work illustrated in Vitamin D. To these artists, with the possible exception of Marlene Dumas, it would, I think, be mumbo jumbo. Neither does it make any connection with Emma Dexter’s (1) claim that telegraph wires, aircraft vapour trails and footprints in the snow are ‘drawings.’ This is the same fundamental category mistake as that made by Jon Thompson (2) with his camera. The error is major and not limited to the issue of drawing alone. Not surprisingly, echoes of its reductionism are to be found in the whole field of contemporary art, especially as a curatorial strategy. According to Dexter, whether video, film, sculpture or print, ‘Bruce Nauman’s entire oeuvre can be seen as a form of ‘’drawing.’ I take this to mean that whatever Bruce Neauman does you can take to mean whatever you like. This is the same reasoning which allows Dexter’s ‘unbroken line’ to extend from pre-history to our own time, precisely because the definition is so broad as to be meaningless.

How can artists who are sharply aware of art history and current practice produce work which is innocent of it?

To avoid this trap it is necessary to leave the framework of expectation, the safety of an anticipated result, and instead trust hand and eye to combine instinctively. The place of an artist’s judgment here is critical. First, it must inevitably initiate a choice of starting point for any work even to begin; secondly it must allow for an openness to change, even radical change as the work develops; and lastly it will inform the artist’s critical decisions about the work done.

The remarkable thing about Matisse’s work at its best……is its closeness to work by those untrained in traditional method, by sophisticated amateurs. His work triumphs when he has been able to bring about a synthesis of innocence with awareness.

It is true that during the Renaissance ‘working’ or ‘first thoughts’ drawings maintained an unconscious link to nature. Through spontaneous and instinctive touch, the hand of the artists was able to convey a sense of rhythm and grace which in many instances freed the work from its immediate historical circumstances. Yet inevitably those natural qualities were subordinated in the finished work to conform to the presentational requirements demanded by the time. Content has dominated from most of art history.

A particular ten year phase of Matisse’s drawing, roughly between the mid 30s and mid 40s, illustrate clearly the importance of this argument of an approach to drawing which, to the detriment of drawing and painting as a whole, has been neglected. Matisse himself, in the Verdet interview (3), links his drawings to that of certain cave drawings. Nowhere is the connection clearer than in his 1938 charcoal drawing Reclining Nude Seen from the Back. Overdrawn, again and again, the figure shifting across the paper, the drawing links across the years to the cave mammoths at Rouffingnac.



(1)    Emma Dexter, Curator of Contemporary Art at Tate Modern pg.124
(2)    Jon Thompson b.1936. British artist, curator and academic. Was head of fine art at Middlesex University School of Art. – Oxlade was on a panel with Thompson about life drawing in art education in 1994. Oxlade says ‘’the verb draw is…all embracing for Thompson; he draws with his camera, he draws when he is polishing a piece of sculpture’’ pg.124
(3)    Interview with Verdet, 1952. Printed in Matisse On Art by Jack D Flam. Pg.142 1990 printing
From Printed in Roy Oxlade – Art And Instinct Selected writings of Roy Oxlade, Vitamin D: For Drawing pg 126. 2010. Ziggurat Books International. First published in Blunt Edge 6, April 2006
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Grant Morrison and the cover to Action Comics 1


Action Comics 1 was published in 1938. In 2011 Grant Morrison spoke about the cover image in his book Supergods.

The cover image that introduced the world to this remarkable character had a peculiar unrepeatable virtue: It showed something no one had ever seen before. It looked like a cave painting waiting to be discovered on a subway wall ten thousand years from now – a powerful, at once futuristic and primitive image of a hunter killing a rouge car.

The Vivid yellow background with a jagged corona of red – Superman’s colours – suggested some explosive detonation of raw power illuminating the sky. Aside from the bold Deco whoosh of the Action Comics logo, the date (June 1938), the issue (no. 1), and the price (10 cents), there is no copy and not a mention of the name Superman. Additional words would have been superfluous. The message was succinct: Action was what mattered. What a hero did counted far more than the things he said, and from the beginning Superman was in constant motion.

Back to the cover: look at the black haired man dressed in a tight fitting blue and red outfit with a cape trailing behind him as he moves left to right across the drawings equator line. The bright shield design on his chest contained an S (gules on a field or, as they say down the heraldry society). Taking flight as he weightlessly hefts an olive green car above his head. Using both hands, he hammers the vehicle to fragments against a conveniently placed rocky outcrop in what appears to be a desert landscape. In the bottom left corner, a man with a blue business suit runs off the frame, clutching his head like Edvard Munch’s Screamer, his face a cartoon of gibbering existential terror, like a man driven to the city limits of sanity by what he has just witnessed. Above his head, another man, wearing a servative brown two-piece, can be seen racing north to the first man’s west. A third, equally terrified, character crouches on his hands and knees, jacketless, gaping at the feet of the superhuman vandal. His abject posture displays his whimpering submission to the ultimate alpha male. There is no fourth man: His place in the lower right corner is taken by a bouncing Whitehall tire torn from its axle. Like the bug-eyed bad guys, it too is trying its best to get away from the destructive muscleman.

In any other hands but Superman’s, the green roadster on that inaugural cover would boast proudly of America’s technological superiority and the wonders of mass manufacturing. Imagine the oozing add copy: ‘’luxurious Whitehall tire trim makes it seem like you’re driving on whipped cream,’’ and black-and-white newsreel cars in mind-boggling procession, rolling off the automated belts at Ford. But this was August 1938. Production lines were making laborers redundant across the entire developed world while Charlie Chaplin’s poignant film masterpiece Modern Times articulated in pantomime the silent crime of the little fellow, the authentic man, not to be forgotten above the relentless din of the factory floor.

Superman has made his position plain: He was a hero of the people. The original Superman was a bold humanist response to Depression-era fears of runaway scientific advance and the soulless industrialism. We would see this early incarnation wrestling giant trains to a standstill, overturning tanks, or bench-pressing construction cranes. Superman rewrote folk hero john Henry’s brave, futile battle with the steam hammer to have a happy ending. He made explicit the fantasies of power and the agency that kept the little fellow trudging along toward another sunset fade-out. He was Charlie’s tramp character, with the same burning hatred of injustice and bullies, but instead of guile and charm, Superman had the strength of fifty men, and nothing could hurt him. If the dystopian nightmare versions of the age foresaw a dehumanised, mechanised world, Superman offered another possibility: an image of a fiercely human tomorrow that delivered the spectacle of triumphant individualism exercising its sovereignty over the implacable forces of industrial oppression. It’s no surprise that he was a big hit with the oppressed. He was a resolutely lowbrow, as pro-poor, as any saviour born in a pigsty.

Returning to the cover again, notice how the composition is based around a barley hidden X shape, which gives the drawing its solid framework and graphic appeal. This subliminal X suggests the intriguing unknown, and that’s exactly what Superman was when Action Comics no. 1 was published: the caped enigma at the eye of a Pop Art storm. He stands at the centre of the compass, master of the four elements and the cardinal directions. In Haitian voodoo, the crossroads is the gateway to the loa (or spirit) Legba, another manifestation of the ‘’god’’ known variously as Mercury, Thoth, Ganesh, Odin or Ogma. Like these others, Legba is a gate keeper and guards the boundary where the human and divine worlds make contact. It makes perfect sense for Superman to inhabit the same nexus.

As a compositional crossbar, the X composition allowed Shuster to get a number of elements in a spinning motion that highlighted the central figure. There are moving people with expressions on their faces, car parts, and very bright colours, but layered over the firm brace of the X, they form a second, spiral arrangement that drags our eye up and around on a perceptual Ferris wheel, eliciting frantic questions as it compels our minds into motion:

Why is this running man so scared?
What’s the car doing up there?
Why is it being smashed against the rock?
What is the man on his knees looking at?

Knowing what we do of Superman today, we can assume that the fleeing, frightened men are gangsters of some kind. Readers in 1938 simply had no idea what was going on. Undoubtedly, action would be involved, but the first glimpse of Superman was deliberately ambiguous. The men were taken for granted as fleeing gangsters could as easily be ordinary passers-by running from grimacing power thug in some kind of Russian ballet dancer kit. There’s no stolen loot spilling from the swag bags, no blue five o’clock shadows, cheap suits, or even weapons to identify the fleeing men as anything other than innocent onlookers. Based on first appearances alone, this gaudy muscleman could be friend or foe, and the only way to answer a multitude of questions is to read on.

But there’s a further innovation to notice, another clever trick to lure us inside. The cover image is a snapshot from the climax of a story we’ve yet to see. By the time the world catches up to Superman, he’s concluding an adventure we’ve already missed! Only by reading the story inside can we put the image in context.

Grant Morrison – Supergods. Published by Johnathan Cape 2011.
Part 1, Chapter 1 – The Sun God And The Dark Knight – Pgs 5 to 8
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Damien Hirst is the greatest living artist. But only if, in using the word art, you accept that art has lost all connections with its long history. Hirst is very good at selling kitsch for very large sums of money: junk ‘art’ for junk bonds. The Hirst empire has been fed by global aesthetic deregulation. A massive confidence trick has been aided and abetted by a market driven art establishment, which culpably or not, has perpetuated a gigantic category error: art is money and higher prices mean better art. That has always been contrary to common sense. The audience at Sotherby’s can be moved to clap as the hammer falls on a big sale. It is not art; it’s the money they worship at this ritual. And if it weren’t for the money we should have stopped talking about Hirst and other artist Celebrities a long time ago. But the financial system is imploding. The US President warns of panic. Floods in Bangladesh leave people living on temporary sand banks. Polar bears are drowning. The turbine hall could soon be underwater. What will happen to the $100m worth of Hirst’s sold at Sotherby’s?

Drawing is different. As something in its own right, there wouldn’t be much point in getting someone else to do your drawing for you, any more than getting someone else to write your poem. Drawing is a solitary activity; something done quietly and best looked at closely, on a small scale, on tables, in folders. Its subtleties rely on touch and gradations of emphasis. It has been done since the beginning and changed little. As art it has no purpose except to be itself; it is valuable because it can express disinterested human creativity. The notion of progress is inimical in drawing; if there is development it is in appreciation and understanding. The tools of drawing remain basically unchanged and its environmental credentials are Obvious.


originally published as an introduction of Blunter Edge 3, December 2008.
Printed in Roy Oxlade – Art And Instinct Selected writings of Roy Oxlade, pg 130. 2010
Ziggurat Books International
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Matisse Exactitude is not Truth 1947 (abridged)

The following is an abridged short essay by Matisse from a catalogue of a Matisse retrospective held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1948

”Among these drawings, which I have chosen with the greatest of care for this exhibition, there are four – portraits perhaps – done from my face as seen in a mirror. I should particularly like to draw these to the visitor’s attention.

These drawings seem to sum up observations that I have been making for many years on the characteristics of a drawing, characteristics that do not depend on the exact copying of natural forms, nor on the patient assembling of exact details, but on the profound feeling of the artist before the objects which he has chosen, on which his attention has focussed, and the spirit of which he has penetrated.

My convictions on these matters crystallised after I had verified the fact that, for example, in the leaves of a tree – a fig tree, particularly – the great difference of form that exists among them does not keep them from being united by common quality. Fig leaves, whatever fantastic shape they assume, are always unmistakeably fig leaves. I have made the same observation about other growing things: fruit, vegetables, etc.

Thus there is an inherent truth which must be disengaged from the outward appearance of the object to be represented. This is the only truth that matters.

The four drawings in question are of the same subject, yet the calligraphy of each one of them shows a seeming liberty of line, of contour, and of volume expressed.

Indeed, no one of these drawings can be superimposed on another, for all have completely different outlines.

In these drawings the upper part of the face is the same, but the lower is completely different. In n. 158 (top, left), it is square and massive; in no. 159 (top, right), it is elongated in comparison with the upper portion; in no.160 (bottom, left), it terminates in a point and in no. 161 (bottom, right), it bears no resemblance to any of the others.

Nevertheless, the different elements which go to make up these four drawings give in the same measure the organic makeup of the subject. These elements, if they are not always indicated in the same way, are still always wedded in each drawing with the same feeling – the way in which the nose is rooted in the face – the ear screwed into the skull – the lower jaw hung – the way in which the glasses are placed on the nose and ears – the tension of the gaze and its uniform density in all the drawings – even though the shade of expression varies in each one.

It is quite clear that this sum total of elements describes the same man, as to his character and his personality, his way of looking at things and his reactions to life, and as to the reserve with which he faces it and which keeps him from uncontrolled surrender to it. It is indeed the same man, one who always remains an attentive spectator of life and of himself.

It is thus evident that the anatomical, organic in exactitude in these drawings, has not harmed the expression of the intimate character and inherent truth of the personality, but on the contrary has helped to clarify it.

Each of these drawings, as I see it, has its own individual invention which comes from the artist’s penetration of his subject, going so far that he identifies himself with it, so that its essential truth makes the drawing. It is not changed by the different conditions under which the drawing is made; on the contrary, the expression of this truth by the elasticity of its line and by its freedom lends itself to the demands of the composition; it takes on light and shade and even life, but the turn of the spirit of the artist whose expression it is.”

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Matthew Collins on the Art Market


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