Hombre en azul de Óscar Curieses en Drunken Boat

hombre-en-azul2sobrecubierta1Layla Benitez-James traduce al inglés el prólogo y el primer cuaderno de Hombre en azul, de Óscar Curieses, en la revista de traducción norteamericana Drunken Boat.

Layla Benitez-James translating Óscar Curieses
Man in Blue (excerpt)

Man in Blue (1989-1992)

Edition and Prologue by Andrew Cullers

Translation by Víctor Abada

Prologue
Nothing was known of these notes, taken by the painter Francis Bacon during the last years of his life, before the inventory and move of his Reece Mews studio in London to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. The dismantling of this space and its later reconstruction was done by an expert team of archeologists who saw to a miniscule analysis of each object they encountered, including its exact position, with the goal of reproducing the identical scene at the new location.

What is offered in the following pages is the transcription of the typewritten text with the title Man in Blue. It was discovered in an old black folder buried in the detritus of the artist’s studio and formed part of nearly 7,000 objects which were found and catalogued there.[1] Within this immense baconian chaos there also appeared to be a multitude of materials containing documents of extreme importance for understanding the Anglo-Irish creator: 1,500 photographs, 570 books and catalogs, 1,300 pages torn from works of diverse origins, 100 slashed canvases, 70 sketches and works on paper, and close to 2,000 utensils for painting (paint tubes, socks, sponges, brushes, aerosols of car paint, scraps of corduroy, etc.).

There is no doubting the importance of discovering these journals for they point out an alternative route by which to approach the painter and his work. In the original typewritten text, Bacon had written numerous entries about his life and artistic origins. The writing is divided into three parts: the first journal covers the period from October 1989 to June 1990; the second from June 1990 to May 1991; and the third, unfinished, from May 1991 to March 1992. One of the artist’s dreams, dated August 1990, was added at the end of the three previous journals as a kind of appendix. That document, unlike those previous, was not found typed out, but handwritten and has been placed at the end of the set. None of the three original journals were found in the studio, but the authenticity of the material is corroborated by the painter’s own notes on the texts after they had been typed, and by their content.[2] Bacon reflected on these statements, previously published in books, interviews and letters, to reorder them, reduce them, or expand upon them. Among these, some of the most ferocious criticisms leveled at his painting (in the spirit of ridiculing them) were included, as those published in The Times on February 16th, 1944 or the words that Bacon himself attributed to John Berger, who had compared him to Walt Disney.[3] The most plausible answer, as indicated by the foremost scholars of his work, is that the painter moved his notes to these journals in the last three years of his life, but that the vast majority of them had been previously drafted. In all likelihood, they were written in secret throughout his career and served as preparation for interviews and statements for newspapers. This same silence surrounding the notes, grouped here finally as a posthumous journal, is similar to what happened with his sketches on paper. These were also discovered in the studio after his death, although the artist had always denied their existence.

It is known that Bacon conscientiously prepared for all his interviews and that he studied to support his statements, even going so far as to prevent their publication if he was not completely satisfied. He felt a great passion for literature and in his personal library the works of Esquilo, T. S. Eliot, Euripides, Proust, John Soros, Ezra Pound, Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and an expansive etcetera were found. But the fact that Bacon was an avid reader did not ensure that he could write with any talent, in spite of the fact that he had tried on occasion. He himself refers to this in a note dated January 16th, 1991, comparing his clumsiness with what he observed in the poems of Picasso: “Each time I move away from painting I feel that my results are so clumsy like those of Picasso who wrote those mediocre surrealist poems of the thirties.”

However, doubts about his possible literary talent dissipate when the reader knows the way in which the interviews of critic David Sylvester were conducted between 1962 and

1986. These were first recorded and then retouched by Bacon before publication. There, the painter did an excellent job of literary assembly: shortening or lengthening initial responses, changing others or even inventing new questions whose answers were already planned in advance. The Thames & Hudson edition collects them in their entirety with the title Interviews with Francis Bacon, it warns: “correspondence between the interviews [recorded as text] and recordings does not exist.” In that document, which constituted the first written for approaching his painting and which was progressively developed during almost twenty-five years (nine interviews in total), there already appear to be many resources for Man in Blue: the sharp, precise and ironic manner of his replies, as well as his brevity, very close to aphorism. The answers to David Sylvester are replies of two or three lines in which their author expresses a concrete idea clearly and decisively. In some cases, the clarity of his replies was so accented, making them unintelligible to the understanding of an untrained ear. For instance, one of the most common of Bacon’s sayings that is just now gaining popularity with the passage of time: “I love phrases that cut me.”

But he always believed that the important thing was the painting itself, not so much what anyone said about it. Perhaps for this reason, he granted interviews to important scholars, critics and biographers in different moments of his life, without avoiding certain inconsistencies. Bacon enhanced these contradictions, which served a double purpose: on the one hand, it gave prestige to his work through association with a major name and, on the other, he was allowed ambiguities that kept the work open and alive. It is not strange, therefore, his distancing from figures such as David Sylvester, his first critic (perhaps the most remarkable of all), whom the painter came to disavow in a condescending manner on occasion. Michel Leiris, Gilles Deleuze, Michael Andrews or Michael Peppiat followed in the footsteps of David Sylvester, but Bacon never submitted completely to any of them because, in the end, he knew that it would be detrimental to his painting. Even in the case of Michel Leiris, for whom Bacon felt a sincere and profound admiration, he maintained a certain distance. In a certain way, as Michael Andrews points out with extreme lucidity in his biography, Bacon would give each of his critics the words they wanted to hear, but always in order to give rise to opinions about its work which he had previously calculated.

As has already been mentioned, all scholars of Bacon’s work pointed out that the three journals gathered under the title Man in Blue recall notes that he would have been taking throughout his career and that he wanted to see them gathered for some reason. But why he dated these annotations (between 1989 and 1992) and why he ordered them are still unresolved questions. If he had collected them with the aim of preparing their responses for criticism (on the occasion of the three exhibitions held in the United States between 1989 and 1990), they would not have been dated, nor would they be so extensive, nor would he have continued writing them later on. Rodman Thierny, one of the last scholars of his work, has noted in Bacon on Canvas: Fat and Blood on the Bank[4] that the painter felt close to death and wanted to gather in several journals the same thoughts that are shown in interviews and previous statements, but in a freer manner, contradictory and refreshed (to include entries about Richard Avedon, Rothko, Giacometti, William Burroughs and Jackson Pollock). Thierny’s hypothesis would perhaps belong with one of the most characteristic features of Bacon’s painting: taking, as a starting point, prior materials and recreating them, updating them. It happened in this manner in some of his most celebrated series (that of the Popes), in many of his portrait studies (those of George Dyer) and in the second versions of some of his works (Study for bullfight I and II). Add to this Bacon’s custom of keeping photographs and reproductions in small format of his own paintings in sight as he painted, which he reflected on to radicalise some of their elements. In any case, the three journals grouped under the title Man in Blue will remain an enigma because none of the people close to the painter in the last years of his life (not even John Edwards[5] or José[6]) knew of their existence.

Another important aspect of the journal is its condition as a posthumous and unfinished document. Certainly it is encountered at an advanced stage, but it is not completely finished. This is demonstrated by numerous corrections and deletions in the typed text, and the white space of the last entry in the diary, corresponding to March 22nd, 1992. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that in the final phase of his work the artist introduced important modifications onto his canvases, able to reorient or destroy the picture in its entirety. Therefore, material that is now at our disposal is perhaps very different from that which Bacon had ultimately approved.

Nearly all scholars have attributed to these notes an undeniable character of “literary triptych,” but nothing indicates that the painter was working in that direction. The structure in three parts is derived only haphazardly, since his death in Madrid in 1992 seems to have prevented its continuation. If that hypothesis is accepted, which is to say, the wish of the author to build a diary divided in three sections in the triptych style, how would the inclusion of the dream from the summer of 1990 following the journals be justified?

I close this small prologue by addressing the issue of his title, Man in Blue. Those words are found hand-written by Bacon on a blank page and hope to unite the bulk of subsequent text: the three journals and the dream. It calls attention to the fact that the painter titles the diary after one of the most important series that he completed in the middle of the 20th century. He always rejected illustrative painting; therefore, it does not seem reasonable to assume that the title and the content of his writings are a direct correlative of that figure: the dark and lonely man who appears in it. It is much more plausible to consider that the text was also the result of his manner of conceiving the painting and that he would have liked to cause another manner of accident, the last, in the set of all his productions.

Perhaps in the future some clue will be found to resolve the enigma of this diary but, until then, we remain at the disposal of the artist’s own words: “The statements I can make about my own work are out of place, but on occasion, they seem to me more appropriate than certain critics’.”[7]

Andrew Cullers, London, 2010

First Journal

(October 1989-June 1990)

[October 29th, 1989]

Time passes and I am beginning to look like my self-portraits.[8]

[October 30th]

I don’t look at paintings from afar, but from within.

Doors like paintings.

[October 31st]

The biography of the artist may be the point of departure for interpreting their work, but never where one arrives.

[November 1st]

I don’t believe in a painting as some biographical fragment of the author, instead, it is like a concrete moment which transcends. The painting sometimes remains, the author, never. (1)

What is an author? (2)

[November 2nd]

I see my best painting suggesting the work I most admire, but so too the work of those whom I consider mediocre or simply detest.

[November 3rd]

What is obscene in nudity. A form of beauty: other.

[November 4th]

Colour like an unconscious method.

[November 6th]

In painting we always erase something vague in a concrete manner.

[November 7th]

The critic desires to be the author of the work they admire, but the author desires to be the work itself. Here resides the primordial difference between one and the other.

[November 8th]

It is the self-portrait itself which looks, conceives and paints. Not the other way around.

[November 9th]

The majority of viewers don’t converse with the painting; instead, they intend to impose their vision in an immediate manner. But in their gaze the viewer would have to experience a sensation of similar intensity to the one which had passed between the painter and his work. I insist: “sensation.”

[November 10th]

I don’t have anything to say, it’s all in the paintings.

[November 11th]

The author can never be the first critic of his work, contrary to what he believes. He never has the sufficient distance from his work and sees in it more of a process than a result.

[November12th]

Rembrandt and I: I lose.[9]

[November 13th]

I don’t have a preconceived image of what it is I want to paint, otherwise it would not be painting. My best works have been those where I didn’t perfectly know what they were doing.

[November 15th]

I am only interested in a narrative which ceases to be in a given moment and which abandons its route in a definitive manner. In this precise instant the essence of what is narrative is born as to tell metaphoric intention: to produce a sensation.

[November 17th]

Colour: mixture. How to speak about the purity of painting?

[November 18th]

I am not someone who must speak with viewers, just my paintings. I am only a residue of them, something they could manage without.

[November 20th]

(About realism). It’s funny the faith the human race puts in a mirror: a fragmented image, distant and partially inverted from the real.

[November 21st]

Paintings are permanent, the painters pass. (1)

I am none of my paintings or I am all of them at once. (2)

[November 22nd]

Each repetition is new. (1)

Series and tryptic not as indications of narrative or chromatic temporality, but its negation.[10] (2)

[November 23rd]

Innocence is always violent.

[November 24th]

I love literature but my words are worthless. (1)

In the 20th century the strength of the word has passed to the strength of the image, hence certain painters have emerged as paradigms of the idea of the artist.

The most evident case is Picasso. (1)

[November 25th]

Geometry is not a theme or intrinsic reflection of the pictorial, but like the effect of the sensation of a subject. It occurs to me to put it like this: the vertical grill.

[November 27th]

I don’t have a reason to paint, I simply paint.

It is an unconscious imperative, an instinct that lacks any purpose. (1)

Shapes and colours are not represented, an extreme figural expansion.

[November 28th]

The historical events of the 20th century have affected my view of the world and, therefore, my painting. I would say it is something similar to a strong awareness of animality more than a term such as irrationality.

[November 29th]

The protagonists of my paintings, if they speak, would do so in a similar manner to the works of Beckett. [11]

But unlike his, they would not be about something irrational or philosophical. In my paintings the characters are seen and act from the perspective of a hallucinating animal. There.

[November 30th]

In our time it is not a question of turning so much to tradition, as many intend, but of enveloping tradition from within itself.

[December 1st]

The importance of Guernica before the importance of the critics of Guernica.

[December 2nd]

The author is in some way possessed by his work and dispossessed by his work. [12]

[December 4th]

All the tearing of my work, although it has not been openly acknowledged, comes from a tragic love and tries to return to it. But returning to that love is never realised, even partially as happens with the Greeks or in Shakespeare. Hence all my violence. (1)

Many years ago in Wheeler’s[13], halfway through the morning I heard a drunken lady, elegantly dressed, saying: “If God doesn’t believe in me, why should I believe in him?” I was quite amused to hear such naivety so early. That same day, after quickly passing through Muriel’s, I walked all afternoon through Battersea Park with that phrase in my head. I don’t know why today those very words return to me.

[December 5th]

Zarko Petan: “You need many words to conceal what you do not wish to say.”

[December 6th]

I am interested in the loss of consciousness in painting, the precise moment of that loss and the sensation it produces. I am not referring to something spiritual or mystical, but to something corporal carried to an extreme, radicalised, such as an extreme and pleasant beating.

[December 7th]

There are only two ways to look at art: the extensive and intense. But over the years I have realised that width and depth are equivalents. It is just a matter of position or point of view. The front can be the side and vice versa.

[December 8th]

Rothko: a heavy boredom before the canvas to reach who knows what eternally deferred ecstasy. (1)

The mystique of Rothko before the mystique of my crucifixions. (2)

[December 9th]

To think of painting as a mirror of the author or of the viewer is a superb stupidity. The canvas is only a mirror of the painting.

[December 10th]

The painter as a brand, degradation of painting.

[December 11th]

Abstraction wanted to kill Picasso, even though it was him—via Cezanne through geometric development—who originated it. However, it has come to nothing, only resurrecting them. It´s like, though in another sense, what happened with God and the Zarathustra of Nietzsche.

[December 12th]

Inability to look at the finished work without mixing it with the sensations of one’s process of creation: those which went through it and those which remained outside. (1)

Inability to stop being entirely myself when painting, because the work is creating me. (2)

[December 13th]

Imposition and exposition. The first is from the paint to the painter, the second is the painter to the paint.

[December 14th]

None of us is at the height of Picasso. And even less so at the height of the grand masters. Each time they place us at their side, in spite of the initial joy that some feel, they do us a great disservice. We become aware of the true meaning of the word “distance.”

[December 15th]

Where you see limits, I only see your limits.

[December 16th]

The question is what will happen in the next few years with the model in painting. Like Picasso, I don’t believe in a painting where the reference has been diluted completely. (1)

If we lose the model, we don’t know where we are. I work exactly from there, out of that loss. But it is very different to lose the reference than to never have had it. The second option is much more comfortable, less dangerous; that is why I always work from the first. (2)

[December 19th]

I’m an artist who is much too compulsive to dedicate myself to sculpture; it would go to pieces again and again.

[December 20th]

Devier Szae: “Not formalism, nor informalism. Form, yes.”

[December 21st]

The stain as an expansive form of contours.

Limits. Semen.

[December 22nd]

Painting is not in the eye, but in the canvas.

[December 23rd]

Just as the psychoanalyst is not able to infer the meaning of the dream, but it must be the patient who does it and who has awareness of the meaning, the art critic should occupy a similar position with respect to the work and to the author whom they examine. (for Lucien Freud)[14]

[December 24th]

The statements that I can make about my own work are out of place but, on occasions, they seem to me much more appropriate than those of certain critics.

[December 27th]

If I would have had different eyes, I would have painted exactly the same.

[December 29th]

(Dyer). One can’t fill the void, only pass through it. [15]

[January 9th]

Without limits there is no possibility.

[January 10th]

Already I have no teachers, only their lessons.

All my painting speaks of these lessons.

[January 11th]

I am stripped by my subject and my subject is stripped by me.

Thus begins the game of mirrors of obscenity.

[January 12th]

I smear the canvas with paint and grab my subject with my hands, even with my nails if necessary. Grab them so that they don’t escape and extract themselves through the bottom of the canvas. Grab as if from a part of a birth, up into the womb. The painting as a mixture of fluids, flesh and forces.

[January 13th]

After a first approach of the model, turning the face toward the hidden interior zone of feeling. Immediately, redirecting that feeling toward another area: his pain observes me with my own face. To continue, I disfigure it.

[January 14th]

I am interested in flesh near the threshold of death.

That which has just died and that which is close to death. Their physical closeness in transformation.

[January 15th]

I always look at you with your own eyes, for this you see me as obscene.

[January 17th]

To think, as Bresson said, on the ejaculatory force of the eye, but also on the strength of the ejaculated image itself.[16]

[January 18th]

TO BE IN THE HOME: Everything is a chaos of dried sponges, papers, brushes, cloths, pants, shit, stomped canvases, ejaculated paint…Yes, TO BE IN THE HOME. (Near to Van Gogh)[17]

[January 19th]

If I had to look for a correlation for what happens in my painting it would be of a language which is spoken because it is pulled by a fishhook. Every time it wants to say something someone pulls on it, though the pull of the hook does not occur from the outside, but from within.

[January 21st]

Many of my subjects have emerged from Velázquez’s painting. In his Coronation of Bacchus, the drunks are similar to those which inhabit my paintings, only several centuries later in Soho in London.

[January 22nd]

I maintain a strange relationship with limits in my life. This is apparent in the treatment of the contours of my paintings. I paint them to tear them.

[January 24th]

Being blind to paint, just there the paint begins to see.

[January 25th]

Someone has torn part of my subjects’ skin in my paintings. And I look at them and try to mend them. The skin does not return exactly to its position, but to another place.

[January 26th]

The skin of the subjects and the skin of the canvas, all are marks, scars.

[January 27th]

I am not interested in silence in painting, but solitude. It is an error to conceive of them as synonyms. Solitude speaks continually, it even shouts.

[January 31st]

Many comment on the violence of my painting, but in the end abstraction is much more cruel. The distortion there has gone to such an extreme that all that is left is geometry and colour. That is to say, extreme tearing, calculated and cold.

[January 6th]

I do not wish to appear like my masters, but to encounter them in some of my canvases. Perhaps to converse. I believe that in some of my paintings I have attained this, paradoxically in those where I tried hardest to remove myself from them. (1)

The light, if it is real, always produces shadow. (2)

[January 8th]

Not looking for forms, rather transformations.

[January 10th]

I don’t paint what is on the skin nor beneath the skin. I simply sew everything with paint, mixing it through inside and through outside.

[January 11th]

Painting is not aggression, but violence. The first needs a receptor, the second does not. Violence is, therefore, much more pure.

[January 12th]

My subjects like my own skin. And my own skin like canvas.

[January 14th]

I am not interested in realism or truth in art, even though this sphere of my existence is with complete certainty the most real and most true. [18]

[January 17th]

Photography, when it is art, is much closer to painting than painting itself.

[February 21st]

Those who wish to know how I really am, observe my self-portraits. They speak better of me than any interview or writing. But I wonder: which are my self-portraits?

[February 22nd]

Slash between the vertically and horizontally human. (Idea of the cross)

[February 24th]

The search for purity in art is a fallacy. It moves towards the essential and the essential is always hybrid as it contains everything.

[February 27th]

Inspiration in other arts like film, sculpture or photography. At times much more interesting than the predictability of the pictorial. In the background, what has progressed in painting has been what has moved away from itself.

[February 28th]

Sensation is not related with morals, illustration always.

[March 3rd]

My painting only interests me in one aspect: during. What comes afterwards is a subject linked with a viewer, the critic or what have you. Already it’s not so important, because it has ceased being painting for me.

[March 4th]

My obsession with the isolation of the individual and the cage finds another of its forms of expression in the glass which covers many of my canvases. They are separated from the viewer.[19] However, through the reflection the glass produces, the viewer is transferred into the interior of the painting. Thus, the obsession is realised and the cage doubles.

[March 5th]

Self-portraits: Muybridge, no image is equal to the one before using the same animal in each series.

[March 7th]

In series and in triptychs I try to reveal the evolution of an internal process or a sentimental space in a non-narrative form. I don’t show the causes for I do not know what they are or if they exist, only their movement. It is always something descriptive but descriptive of the interior not of the exterior.

[March 8th]

The one who speaks in the name of Rimbaud: I am always other.[20]

[March 9th]

Much of my failure or success is due to the total tension that exists between the model and myself. We devour each other furiously until we transform into a kind of hybrid. This is especially maximised when we speak of self-portraits.

[March 10th]

I don’t search. I find something or am found by something. Something for which I was not searching for and which drags me. That is what is accidental. If I seek the accidental automatically, everything would be a farce. It’s one thing to be guided in an unconscious manner toward the accidental and another to be the guide of the accident. This is what distinguishes the falsified from the created.

[March 12th]

I don’t wish to meditate, I wish to scream. (Against Rothko and company)

[1] I refer the reader to the book of photography, 7 Reece Mews. Francis Bacon’s Studio (2001) by Perry Ogden, with prologue by John Edwards, published by Thames & Hudson, which excellently complements the reading these journals.

[2] On this matter the reader can consult “Inkmeat: Francis Bacon” by Lydia Zans, published in The New Yorker on November 1, 2002, where she proves the authenticity of each of the found manuscripts.

[3] See the entry for October 23rd 1990.

[4] Rodman Thierny, Bacon on Canvas: Fat and Blood on the Bank, Dublin Publishers, 2007.

[5] John Edwards (1949-2003) was one of Bacon’s lovers and protégés in the final stage of his life and his only heir. It was his decision to move the Reece Mews studio in London to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.

[6] José, of Spanish nationality, was the final romantic partner of the painter. Bacon, at the end of his life traveled on numerous occasions to Madrid to meet with him. No further details are provided on this matter to preserve his identity.

[7] A multitude of photos of the hand-written journal which seem to correspond to the third journal of the diary of Francis Bacon were found in November of 2013 at the home of the famous British photographer Lawrence McMullen, who passed away in August of the same year. The reader will find two of these images in the annex to the current edition. Its authenticity has not yet been established but signs point to it being the painter’s actual original text. The whereabouts of the other two journals remains unknown.

[8] Bacon was born on October 28th, 1909. The first entry which appears in the diary corresponds to the day after his 80th birthday.

[9] Bacon seems to refer to the status of Rembrandt as a painter of self-portraits. On numerous occasions he alluded to the mastery of the Dutch painter and publicly recognised his fascination for some of his works like The Young Rembrandt (1628), the sketch titled Self-portrait with cape and wide open eyes (1630) and Self-portrait as Zeuxis (1669), painted in the year of his death.

[10] Bacon admired the series of some impressionists, but his use of this influence varies substantially in respect to them. While the painters of the 19th century attempted to capture the course of time and its chromatic consequences (for example, the works dedicated to The Cathedral of Rouen and The Station of San Lazaro by Monet), the Brit used it as an intensification of the phenomenon of sensation free from the form’s narrative value.

[11] Even though Samuel Beckett and Francis Bacon possessed some common biographical traits (the two were artists of recognised prestige who left Ireland and came to live in Paris), the painter always showed a certain indifference with regard to the work of the writer. It is remarkable, therefore, that in the intimacy of the journal he alludes to these similarities.

[12] Entry crossed out by Bacon.

[13] Wheeler’s was one of the restaurants that Bacon frequented in Soho. Muriel’s is the name given by the regulars of The Colony Room, the establishment of Muriel Belcher that the artist visited almost daily.

[14] Bacon’s first mention in the journals of the painter Lucien Freud, nephew of the Viennese psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. This was one of the friends and artists closest to Bacon for much of his life. Their relationship ended abruptly in 1970, although the interest and mutual respect they felt for each other as artists did not disappear. Lucien made several drawings of Bacon in 1951 (still little known) and one of the most famous portraits of the Anglo-Irish painter in 1962. Francis also portrayed Freud on many occasions in the 1960s. Of all these works, these two stand out: Three Studies for Portrait of Lucien Freud (1966) and Portrait of George Dyer and Lucien Freud (1967).

[15] The first reference in the diary to George Dyer, one of the most important partners in Bacon’s life. Dyer met Bacon in the sixties and was the subject of many of the images of his canvases becoming an identifying sign of his painting. He committed suicide in 1971 in Paris, the day before the inauguration of the artist’s retrospective in the Grand Palace of the same city.

[16] He refers to Robert Bresson, the filmmaker, not to Henri Cartier-Bresson, the photographer.

[17] First reference to the Dutch painter. Bacon was not only fascinated by his painting, to which he devoted a series in the fifties, but also by his writing. Letters to Theo (1906) was always part of his bedside reading.

[18] The note is found crossed out and with it is written: “shit.”

[19] Many of Bacon’s paintings, once completed, are covered afterwards with a glass which is barely perceptible to the eyes of the viewer.

[20] It was known that Bacon professed an admiration for French writers such as Baudelaire, Proust or Leiris, but not for Rimbaud. It is likely that this interest is related to the demand for perfection and skepticism that the French poet felt toward his own work.
Translator’s Note

April 28th 2017 will mark the 25th anniversary of the painter Francis Bacon’s death in Madrid, a city he had come to love, with its history of art that had long obsessed him. Óscar Curieses, a Madrid native, has in turn become obsessed with Bacon’s life and work in his highly experimental first novel, Man in Blue.

The premise of the work is the discovery of a manuscript of Bacon’s personal diaries. After its title page, Man in Blue has a second title page with the name of a fictional scholar (Andrew Cullers) and fictional translator (Víctor Abada), which serves as the launch of the story.

This deeply experimental and metafictional spirit of Man in Blue interrogates the traditional form of the novel and idea of story, hovering between diary and manifesto and between a kind of academic, historical, biographical homage. One element which initially attracted me to the novel was that Curieses’s Bacon constantly calls into question how much an author’s biography can bear on their work, even as the entire premise of Man in Blue rests on knowledge of Bacon’s fame and biography.

Due to the shadowy backstory stalking through its pages, the novel presents many interesting questions for translation into English. Since Bacon would have originally been writing in English, an element to the novel’s pretense was the need for a Spanish translator. Therefore a translation into English (as opposed to the French or Italian, both forthcoming) is also a kind of return to an imaginary origin, a kind of “backtranslating.” As I wanted to translate with the voice of Bacon in mind, I listened to many interviews to help make decisions in vocabulary. Being a Texas native, I also went about learning more British spellings, adding in u’s and trading my z’s for s’s. I want the diary to be believably Bacon if one has listened to his voice or read his biographies, to lull the reader into a false sense of security or a kind of false footing in the narrative.

It is not that the novel attempts to make a reader forget that these are constructed diaries, but it makes the reader desire to forget on their construction; to feel that these diaries could have really been discovered in the “baconian chaos” and suspect, or hope, that something like them might really exist. The novel hovers on our hopes and romantic ideas of having more from this eccentric artist and a larger window into his psyche.

Layla Benitez-James (Austin, 1989) is a poet and translator living in Spain. Her work has appeared in The San Antonio Express-News, The San Antonio Current’s Flash Fiction series, Acentos Review, Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature, Matter, Guernica, and Autostraddle. Poems have appeared in translation into Spanish in Revista Kokoro and La Galla Ciencia Numero IV with bilingual presentations in Spain including El Tren de los Poetas in Cuenca, Los Lunes Literarios, La Galla Ciencia, Café Zalacaín in Murcia, and La poesía es noticia: Moth & Rust / Óxido y polilla, una sesión de poemas en inglés y español in Alicante.

Óscar Curieses (Madrid, 1972) is a writer, translator and professor. His poetry collections include Sonetos del útero (Bartleby Editores, 2007), Dentro (Bartleby Editores, 2010), and Icebergs (Bartleby Editores, 2016), Hay una jaula en cada pájaro (Editorial Ya lo dijo Casimiro Parker, 2012), which includes the improvisational “El grito es un movimiento inacabado” with audioperformance AMC313. He translated The Electric Comedy (Amargord Ediciones, 2016) by Rolando Pérez and The Gold Cell (Bartleby Editores, 2016) by Sharon Olds into Spanish. Hombre en azul (Jekyll&Jill Editores, 2014) is inspired by the biography and work of painter Francis Bacon. He received his doctorate in Literature and Fine Arts from Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM). http://oscarcurieses.com.

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