Although Bacon had told Sonia Orwell in 1954, “I want to paint, not hunt for newspaper cuttings,” he never stopped searching for images capable of igniting his fundamental urge to make marks on canvas. Harrison and his coauthor, Rebecca Daniels, have ensured that everything reproduced in the pages of Incunabula has been identified, traced back to its source, and, so far as possible, accurately dated. Just how diverse the material is can be appreciated from the moment we start exploring the illustrations. The first section, “Art—Photography,” focuses on Bacon’s abiding obsession with the human body. It commences with an Eadweard Muybridge photograph of a man shadowboxing. Like the Futurists before him, Bacon was enthralled by Muybridge’s pioneering camera studies of successive stages in a figure’s dynamic motion through space. But he took an equal amount of delight in slicing them up, folding them back on one another, and creating a jagged, fragmented composite that forces us to look at the photographs from a dizzying array of angles. The result looks more like a Bacon than a Muybridge. The section’s second illustration shows how seriously Bacon regarded this process of fragmentation. Surprisingly, the Muybridge photographs concentrate this time on a female body—a subject Bacon tackled only on rare occasions. Yet our attention is caught more by the gray-brown support on which Bacon mounted these cutout images: He allowed it to invade the photographs, partially obliterating them and, at the same time, revealing a glimpse of another cutting hidden beneath, a textual extract from a 1936 edition of the American nudist magazine Sunshine and Health.
more from Richard Cork at bookforum here.