Bacon’s regard originates outside of time. His paintings are like superimposed transparencies, containing and revealing time’s layers, including the ones which exist only in the realm of possibility. This agglomeration of temporalities always refers to a single, human time – the skeletal time of decay.
There is no Bacon figure which does not also contain the figure of its own death (and perhaps also birth – the foetal pink of unready flesh creeping into every body). Time extends and collapses not only linearly, but dimensionally as well: the occult, the photographic, the unscientific.
In these Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorn, her warped body throws a perfectly-formed shadow behind her, and one is tempted to consider this projection as either the ectoplasmic being which is the birth of body, or the substance-less shadow left behind after total decay (like the shadows of Hiroshima, the images remembering a presence which left no atom behind).
On deeper inspection, however, the shadow reveals itself to be the true figure, and the bodies which spring forth from this distilled color of self are the imitations, entirely human, entirely tainted. There is no face which does not contain the empty black orbits of its own skull, no face which does not contain its double, no face which does not contain other faces – that of the painter and of the viewer, when his regard is honest to see its own undoing.
The shadow is solid whereas the flesh weak and inform. Bodies emerge from floors, drip from walls and slide between doorways, but ectoplasm asserts its supremacy. The selves splay and splatter in multiple, contradictory directions, and each regard-filled visage is revealed to be the visage of many, the visage of one. As these faces bubble, blister, grow, stretch, shrink and die, Bacon records this motion in paintstrokes, laying layer-upon-layer plane-upon-plane, painting not the motion itself, but its manifestation in color and facet, forcing the portrait to abandon its mimetic origins, and become servant only to the idea.