The Pages Behind the Artists: The Brutality of Fact (Bowie 1 of 100)

Sylvester, David. The Brutality of Fact: Interviews With francis bacon. London: Thames & Hudson. 1987


A collection of 9 interviews compiled from tapes, videos, and transcripts covering a span of 24 years (1962 - 1986). Topics include methods and styles, but also the value, role and importance of the artist. While doing basic research on the book, I found two interviews of David Bowie dating from the early 90's, when he was more involved with the art world than the music world.

The two points that these interviews brought to my attention were that Davie Bowie was not actually a fan of Bacon, and that he observed a mid life crisis at the age that I am now. Now onto Bacon.

I had never heard of Francis Bacon the artist before seeing this list of books. My exposure to art, music and literature tends to the classic and is predominately of a survey level ending with the early 1900's. In researching his work, I ahve determined that I m not a fan of the figurative style, however, I found many insights within these interviews, and higlighted many passages and took numerous margin notes.

A few statements for you to ponder:


  • But when you're outside a tradition, as every artist is today, one can only want to record one's own feelings about certain situations as closely to one's own nervous systems as one possible can. (page 43)
  • Because poeple tend to be offended by facts, or what used to be called truth. (page 48)
  • Isn't it that one wants a thing to be as factual as possible and at the same time as deeply suggestive or deeply unlocking of areas of sensation other than simple illustration of the object that you set out to do? Isn't that what all art is about. (page 56)
  • But, although I may use what's called the tecquniques that have been handed down. I'm trying to make out of them something that is radically different to what those tecquniques have made before. (page 107)
  • -to make the thing unlike yet miraculously like. It's taken many forms, this idea of transforming the material very radically in order to make it more like itself. In one way or another it's a very common aim in art. (page 126)
  • ...the excitement and the possibilities are in the working and obviously can only come in working. ( page 156)
  • ...we're so saturated with all the arts, through all the means of reproducing them and seeing them and everything, that the saturation point has come so strongly that one just longs for new images and new ways by which reality can be created. (page 179)

and finally

  • And then too, to be a painter now, I think that you have to know, even if only in a rudimentary way, the history of art from pre-historic times right up to today. (page 199)

Admittedly, the context and longer forms of these quotes might mean more, but this handful spoke to me in the context of burlesque and tyring to live as an artist in this day and age.

In regards to Bowie and this book. I wish that the list he compiled in 2013 had included notations in regard to when he read them or how he came upon them. It would be interesting to have a frame of reference made of his music and art, and to possibly see the influence these books had on him as an artist. I can not assume that this book is associated with his period of painting, but because my research directed me that way, I will address it that way.

The idea that someone many of us hold as exceptionally talented and inspiring could suffer from a mid-life crisis, is breathtaking. This concept brings him closer, gives us hope and gives us permission to doubt. But it also demands that we address the crisis and find the new roads that we need to follow to return us to the path we desire. As a middle aged dancer, I have a sense of mortality for my artistic output, but I also have a well of ideas that have not been tapped, looking for a spring to pour forth from. In my time, I have seen burlesque shift from a rock-n-roll DIY mentality to a classic resurgence to a pop-culture mirror and occasionally a mouthpiece change and acceptance. Not everyone has shifted with the scene, some have shifted so far that we are all playing catch-up, and others have followed and then returned to their roots. In this age of the internet and social media, the shift does not remove the prior forms, and we can see the shift not happening uniformally across the geographic regions. My doubt involves a move through regions into a different but similar culture that is shifting at a different rate. Do I need to find a new point of action within the shift, can I continue from my current point, or can I jump to an alternative scale and use this move as a complete recalibration and return to my original inspirations outside of the context and start the shift and growth patterns again. I foresee some ideas that were passed on in the past, seeing fruition in this new paradigm. Bacon's thoughts on art and it's value, and where he comes to art from are thought provoking, and it makes me feel confident in myself and the future to examine these thoughts, and imagine that Bowie found them at the same age, when handling similar personal issues.