Thursday, September 20, 2007

We're born, we look around, we die

At the Guardian, Damien Hirst on the experience of reading David Sylvester's Francis Bacon interviews at age sixteen:
Sylvester and Bacon leave no stone unturned in their joint search for language and meaning, debating painterly solutions to painters' problems and the changing role of subject matter. I bought Hobbes' Leviathan because someone told me that a lot of Bacon's ideas came from there. I didn't really get the connection at that time, though I picked up a few good, nasty quotes: "No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Some other phrases I have used in my work have a good Hobbesian ring: "We're born, we look around, we die."
It seems to me one of the few genuinely good things about being a teenager that we can have this kind of amazing encounter with some startling thing and then fanatically pursue it by doing things like reading Leviathan--of course I still do this in adult life, but it becomes less likely that one will encounter something genuinely outside of hitherto-experienced reality. (Not saying that it doesn't happen; just not so frequently, or so utterly mind-blowingly...)

And here's an extract from the interviews in question. Lots of extraordinary stuff packed in there, I think this is a book I must get, but here's a quite lovely bit:
Well, of course, we are meat, we are potential carcasses. If I go into a butcher's shop I always think it's surprising that I wasn't there instead of the animal. But using the meat in that particular way is possibly like the way one might use the spine, because we are constantly seeing images of the human body through x-ray photographs and that obviously does alter the ways by which one can use the body. You must know the beautiful Dégas pastel in the National Gallery of a woman sponging her back. And you will find at the very top of the spine that the spine almost comes out of the skin altogether. And this gives it such a grip and a twist that you're more conscious of the vulnerability of the rest of the body than if he had drawn the spine naturally up to the neck. He breaks it so that this thing seems to protrude from the flesh. Now, whether Dégas did this purposely or not, it makes it a much greater picture, because you're suddenly conscious of the spine as well as the flesh, which he usually just painted covering the bones. In my case, these things have certainly been influenced by x-ray photographs.
(Link via Neil Gaiman.)

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