Francis Bacon

!!to be further elaborated as I finalise Assignments 4 and 5

Francis Bacon’s edgy, visceral paintings tapping the unconscious a key source of inspiration for:

Quotations from the videos below:

We do with our lives what we can. And then we die. What else is there?

If anything ever does work in my case chance, and what I call ‘accident’ takes over.

Gamble everything on the next brush stroke…different strokes trying to do something else then develop themselves

How are you going to trap reality? How are you going to trap an appearance without making an illustration of it?

  • Colour of meat is beautiful

Issues for my printmaking:

  • Feeling the form as it emerges – particularly with monoprint or inking collagraph plates. One thing can turn into another.
  • Can work from photographs for portraits. But observe – Bacon could not draw.
  • Shadows do not need to relate to a subject – making them different can create considerable tension
  • his tryptichs ‘don’t relate to each other, but they play off one another…the balance seems better with three’


Key images

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion c.1944 The work’s exhibition in April 1945 coincided with the release of the first photographs and film footage of the Nazi concentration camps. (Tate Modern website)
Triptych August 1972. This work is generally considered one in a series of Black Triptychs which followed the suicide of Bacon’s lover, George Dyer. Dyer appears on the left and Bacon is on the right. The central group is derived from a photograph of wrestlers by Edward Muybridge, but also suggests a more sexual encounter. The seated figures and their coupling are set against black voids and the central flurry has been seen as ‘a life-and death struggle’. (Tate Modern website)
Study for a self-portrait. Also known as Businessman I 1952 or Man’s Head 1952

Other paintings


Man in a Cap


BBC documentary

Tate Gallery Retrospective with words from Francis Bacon spoken by John Hurt

BBC Archive film

His last interview

Works set to music

Resources and references

Abstract painting techniques

Research on abstract painting techniques for Project 2.2 Random Abstracts

Below are videos of different approaches in paint that I could explore in printmaking.

Hard Edge Abstraction

Possible to explore for masked monoprint and/or screen print. Or indeed using masking on any type of print. These techniques use masking tape that is also worth exploring.

See also: Abstract Expressionism

Mark Rothko techniques

Willem de Kooning

Clyfford Still


Abstract Expressionism: Research Point

for further development linked to Assignment 4 and work on Maggi Hambling


Anfam, D., Ed. (2017). Abstract Expressionism. London, Royal Academy of the Arts. Book from the 2017 exhibition.
Tate Gallery
The Art

Abstract expressionism is the term applied to new forms of abstract art developed by American painters in the 1940s and 1950s, mostly based in New York City, and also became known as the New York school.The name evokes their aim to make art that while abstract was also expressive or emotional in its effect. They were inspired by the surrealist idea that art should come from the unconscious mind, and by the automatism of artist Joan Miró.

Within abstract expressionism were two broad groupings:

  • Action painters : Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning who attacked their canvases with expressive brush strokes. They worked in a spontaneous improvisatory manner often using large brushes to make sweeping gestural marks,  or pouring paint over the surface directly placing their inner impulses onto the canvas.
  • Colour field painting : Mark RothkoBarnett Newman and Clyfford Still who created simple compositions with large areas of more or less a single flat colour intended to produce a contemplative or meditational response in the viewer.

Several important female Abstract Expressionists from New York and San Francisco like Helen Frankenthaler and Lee Krasner now receive credit as elemental members of the canon.

Key Ideas

  • influenced by Surrealism’s focus on mining the unconscious, interest in myth and archetypal symbols, understanding of painting itself as a struggle between self-expression and the chaos of the subconscious.
  • influenced by leftist politics, and value an art grounded in personal experience.
  • emphatically American in spirit – monumental in scale, romantic in mood, and expressive of a rugged individual freedom.

Women artists in abstract expressionism

Iona Howard

She has a studio in Cottenham in the Cambridgeshire Fens.

My prints explore the notion of time and landscape through a contemplative exploration of surface. The sources of my prints can come from working in the open air or expressing landscape filtered through memory…I am captivated by the ancient semi-natural landscapes typical of my native west Cornwall where a blurred line exists between nature and human activity. Recent works of the Fens focus on the meeting point of land, horizon and sky, their flatness altering the perception of distance. ‘

From interview with Iona in Cambridge 4th Feb 2017:

Her landscapes have a strong geometric structure of contrasting colours and textures. She mainly uses a combination of carborundum, drypoint and monoprint techniques. A mix of a binder (polyurethane varnish) and carborundum grit is applied onto the surface of a plate and sealed with the same varnish. The binder has to withstand a lot of working but should not be so thick as to hide the grit texture of the carborundum. To contrast the carborundum, drypoint is added to produce an incised line. The plate is then inked up using etching ink and copperplate oil with a brush or roller.

Originally she worked in black and white. Now she also works in colour from memory and notes. Colour is built up by layering carborundum plates or more often overlaid though monoprint. Dry ink can be added as a third pass. Ink can be laid on thickly for more embossing. She can use the same base plate but with different seasons. Editions of 40. Or 10-15. She gets commissions where people ask for specific colours.

The technique allows working directly in the landscape to paint on the carborundum and the drypoint plates, and large images can be produced. She prints  on thick Somerset paper, printing to the edge of the paper to “leave the composition as unconstrained as the landscapes from which I seek inspiration”. She mounts with  nonreflective glass.


Artist’s Statement

My art is somewhat schizophrenic. My professional life is very intense – working on participatory development in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Part of my aim and motivation in my art is therefore political – how to try and make the world a better place through improving communication and understanding between people – the poor and the rich, women and men and across ethnic divides. How to make visual as well as spoken messages understandable without oversimplifying from one particular standpoint, but providing information for people to want to think things through for themselves.

At the same time my art is also a way of exploring different ways of seeing and learning about the world as part of a search for my personal individual meaning, outside my professional life. Something that communicates feelings – flashes of light darting across layers of reflection, fascination with transition states and half-glimpsed images by my brain in its attempt to make sense of random patterns and sensations.  I am particularly interested in the power of suggestion and the process of abstraction. Although much of my work is detailed and figurative, I also experiment with found images and the degree to which images can be simplified in different ways for different effects and still remain readable to the viewer.

In my printmaking I have no one particular subject. I enjoy figurative drawing from life: people, landscapes, cityscapes. I have become increasingly interested in abstraction. And combining figurative and abstract elements into imaginative narratives. I am interested in exploring the specific features of different printmaking techniques compared to other media like drawing, photography and painting that I have explored in my other OCA courses.

Printmaking places a matrix or plate in between the production of the art work and its realisation as the final image. It freezes gestural markmaking, leaving time for reinterpretation before the final work is produced. The insertion of the matrix or plate also introduces an element of unpredictability – much depends on the particular state of the ink on the plate before it meets the paper. This unpredictability can to some extent be controlled through meticulous planning, experience and repetition, but is very sensitive to timing and heat and humidity in printing environment. In my work I prefer to treat unpredictability as part of the creative process – interacting with the plate as it evolves and building on what is produced as I go along. In that way I often discover new things about the image, new feelings and elements that I can push beyond what I could have planned or imagined.

Printmaking is generally done in layers. This enables both reinforcement and contrast in meaning and effects between layers. It means you can get intense splashes of light peeping through, struggling to emerge through the dark – sometimes planned, sometimes unexpected. I am interested in exploring the interactions between different types of ink, different papers and how this affects the ways that colours translate and interact to produce sharp and blurred edges to the transitions.

It is possible to push different types of printing process: monoprint, linocut, collagraph etc in the direction of their ‘natural’ effect. But each of the above can also be varied to produce a wide range of effects and mood. And the different techniques can be combined in an infinite number of variations.

  • There are many different types of plate – from metal to lino to potatoes. Each has different properties in affecting the qualities of line that can be produced, textures and how they absorb the ink and interact with the paper.
  • Different types of drawing implement can be used to produce different qualities of line or shape. They can also be used on the back of the paper to draw down into the ink. Or to incise through the ink on the front of the paper.
  • Different types of paper can enhance or contrast with the qualities of the plate – underlying or showing through the printed image.
  • Different types of ink give different layering effects, degrees of transparency and possibilities for texturing and combining colours.
  • Even the subtleties of the printing process itself affect the final image – the precise pressure of the printing press, whether the paper is placed on top or below the plate, is dry or damp to absorb the ink in different ways or whether the sensitivity of hand printing is used and in which parts of the image.

I have become increasingly interested in exploring fundamental design principles – something I am exploring in depth in my OCA Book Design course:

  • how different types of line can be produced and affect the mood and overall feel of a piece.
  • how different shapes and underlying tonal structure interact to produce a feeling of balance and harmony or structural tension and chaotic emotion.
  • how different colours can completely change the reading of an image – how they advance and retreat, combine to affect emotion and produce movement.

I need to think more about what sort of planning I do. When I plan too much things become very static and flat –  like a lot of the ‘hotel-style’ prints I do not like by other people. It is a very tricky balance. I still do not have sufficient technical skill to have real confidence always in what I am doing. But I think that with more experience, both in design, contrast and composition and particularly with control of ink with different types of surface and paper, it will be easier to envisage beforehand what something will look like. Then achieve something that builds on that vision including accidents and new discoveries. So that real creativity is maintained.

I intend to incorporate these elements into my work in Printmaking 2.


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