Deleuze, Bacon and Groensteen

Here’s a page that I used to accompany last week’s presentation at the RNUAL (Research Network University of the Arts London) symposium at London College of Fashion. The basic idea was about the things that exist on the page, or canvas, before we start making marks. In “The Logic of Sensation“, Gilles Deleuze describes how when a “fine art” painter approaches the canvas, it’s full of “figurative givens” – that is, all of the cliched, pre-existing ideas about figuration that the painter has absorbed, from art history, photography, film, etc. For Deleuze, Bacon was all about escaping these “givens”, moving away from narrative and straight figuration to create what he calls the “figural” – something that gives the viewer a sense of a presence, that arises from depiction but is not contained within it. Bacon’s strategy for removing, or exorcising, these givens from the canvas was to attack it with random marks, flinging the paint around like the archetypal romantic lone genius he was.

My argument – drawing on Thierry Groensteen’s idea of “gridding”, from “The System of Comics” – was that this idea of conceptual structures existing on the page before you start making marks also applies to making comics, but that the aims are very different, in fact almost completely opposed. For cartoonists, our purpose is not to escape, but to realise, narrative content, and rather than escape figurative cliche, we have to create our own sets of representational shorthands. And we have a kind of “figural” too – when you read a comic, you connect the various appearances of the characters to create an idea of presence that arises from, but is not contained within, any of the the individual depictions that make up the text.

I’ve got a few more pages planned around this idea, as I think it’s applicable to drawing techniques more generally. Patrick Maynard, in “Drawing Distinctions“, describes the application of techniques like linear perspective in a very similar way, but he calls the pre-existing conceptual material “frameworks”.


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