Deleuze and Painting: Music and the Figure

Lois Fitch

conference: DARE 2015: the dark precursor
date: November 9, 2015
venue: De Bijloke Music Center, Kraakhuis
format: in words
practice: image
keywords: Brian Ferneyhough, figure, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, schizophrenia, sensation

abstract video about the author(s)


Much of Gilles Deleuze’s work reflects his interest in pure semiology and power structures. However, particular examples in his sole-authored work explore the abstractions of his theoretical oeuvre through close and vivid analysis of artworks themselves, most notably in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Deleuze’s reading of the paintings draws in part on the painter’s interviews with David Sylvester, a perspective expressed in language that could not be less un-Deleuzian, and yet captures some of the essential motifs that go to the core of Deleuze/ Guattari’s characterization of ‘Schizophrenia’: the ‘body without organs’, sensation as an alternative to representation, and conformity to prevailing hierarchies such as those manifest in capitalist systems. Deleuze develops numerous concepts through his reading of Bacon’s figurative paintings, especially that of the ‘figure’, an entity distinct from the figurative, or that which represents. The concept of ‘figure’ is a complex one, but relates only in part to the fact that Bacon mainly painted (human) figures. Deleuze himself suggests that those few paintings that do not depict a human or animal figure — such as the series of paintings from the mid/late 1980s that includes the two versions of Jet of Water (1988), or Blood on the Floor (1986)— are nonetheless figural in the sense he intends. This opens up the possibility that other art forms, such as music, can also incorporate the figural according to Deleuze and Bacon’s particular understanding of sensation. Moreover, Deleuze’s writings on music (and in particular his concept of the refrain) are arguably less persuasive, and certainly less focused on actual artefacts (as opposed to abstract theory) than his discourse on Bacon. This paper explores how Deleuze’s critique of Bacon’s works can usefully enable discussion of the related concepts of figure, sensation, and force in music, with reference to the music of Brian Ferneyhough (b. 1943) and other contemporary composers who have either expressed specific interest in Bacon or Deleuze’s work or whose artistic outputs suggest that this conceptual framework might offer useful interpretative insights.


about the author(s)

Lois Fitch

Lois Fitch received her Doctorate from Durham University after studying with Max Paddison. After completing a teaching fellowship at Durham, she became Programme Leader, BMus at Edinburgh Napier University, and in 2008, moved to the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester where she is now Head of Undergraduate Programmes. In 2012 she received an Early Career Fellowship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to complete her monograph Brian Ferneyhough (Intellect: Bristol and Chicago, 2013). Future projects include returning to the subject matter of her PhD (Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon and the writings and music of Brian Ferneyhough) and undertaking research into performers’ annotations and performance practice in contemporary scores.

info & contact


Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, UK