About Cecily Brown
Cecily Brown’s painting uses the history of sex and violence of Western art history and reinvents the subject matter through an immediate, direct application of pigment. As critic Johanna Drucker notes, the paintings “flicker at the hallucinatory edge between figural representation and gestural abstraction,” mimicking the ranges of touch and flashes of eroticism. Baroque in scale and temperament, Brown’s paintings might recall the twisting bodies and forms of Titian or Rubens though the works are also cognizant of the fractured spaces and flesh of Willem de Kooning’s portraits as well as the critical climate of identity studies. Brown’s scenes never fully coalescence into stable images, but instead delay closure and become a field of often beautiful passages of colorful marks and strokes.
Black Painting 1, 2002, is part of a series of dark works that muse on the connection between sex and death and demonstrate the complexity of Brown’s sources and concerns. A viewer can detect the hint of many references, notably Francisco Goya’s famous etching The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, 1799, Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare, 1782, and William Blake’s Jerusalem, 1820. However, Brown’s work is not easily reducible to any one forerunner and can be seen as a critique of these historical works. Unlike the ravished and intruded females of Blake and Fuseli, the painting presents a solitary male tortured by ambiguous if not evil spirits of the night. Goya’s bats and Fuseli’s horrible incubus become a cloud of fading flashes of white strokes, but it is ultimately uncertain whether the flashes come from an outside source or are produced by the man’s prone, orgasmic body.
Figures in a Landscape 2, 2002, features other innovations on historical sources. On the edges of the canvas, trees frame Brown’s central erotic actions in paint, a reference to a long lineage of pastoral landscape painting as well as the modern updates of the genre undertaken by Édouard Manet’s infamous Luncheon on the Grass, 1863, and Paul Cézanne’s bather paintings. Like Manet and Cézanne, Brown is presenting an edgy, contemporary take on sexuality. However, in Brown’s style, sexuality becomes enacted directly in the application of paint—historical composition breaks into surges of energy and loosely organized swatches of color and light.