British-born painter Cecily Brown has garnered international attention for her sensual and colourful oil paintings that often blur the boundary between the figurative and the abstract. Their inspiration fluctuates from chance and improvisation to art historical and pop culture imagery.Read More
Born in London and raised in Surrey, Cecily Brown is the daughter of novelist Shena Mackay and art critic David Sylvester. From an early age, she developed a strong interest in art.
Brown studied under British painter and sculptor Maggi Hambling before attending the Slade School of Fine Art in London. Although she graduated from the Slade in the early 1990s, Brown did not align with the conceptually driven, anti-painting stance of the Young British Artist group that were rising to prominence in London at the time.
Instead, in 1994 she moved to New York where she had once spent six months as an exchange student. There, she joined ranks with artists like John Currin and Nicole Eisenman, working to revitalise figurative painting with new energy and critical significance.
Cecily Brown's artworks are not firmly planted in the figurative tradition, however. Instead, they fluctuate in the hazy area between figuration and abstraction, their elements engaged in visual conflict. As she explained to Jackie Wullschläger of the Financial Times, 'My natural state is being torn.'
There is a sense of fluidity and a state of flux in her works. She paints in a visual shorthand of expressive brushstrokes and vivid pulsating colour, referencing influential Western artists ranging from Reubens and Veronese to de Kooning and Bacon, punctuated with instances of clarity.
Exploring the boundary between the figurative and the abstract, Brown experiments to see just how little visual information is needed for the human eye and mind to discern an image. While the figurative component is readily identifiable in works such as Untitled (Blood Thicker Than Mud) (2012), in others, like Thriller (2009) or Jicky (2009–2010), the mind is put to strain to see beyond the kaleidoscope of colour and painterly marks.
Sexual energy and eroticism are a core part of many of Cecily Brown's paintings, including her earlier works of the 1990s, based around luridly coloured graphic oil paintings of rabbits, and her later works, depicting human figures engaged in orgiastic scenes. The underlying sources of these images and compositions, however, vary from art historical examples to pop culture.
The artist's process of image-making is slow and drawn out. She consistently works with several canvases in progress at the same time around her studio. Moving between them, the artist ensures motifs organically flow across multiple works. Brown works and reworks her paintings over several years, adding to their visual conflict as her fluctuating style contends with itself.
Highly sought after, Brown is one of only a few living female artists whose work is valued in the seven-figure range. Cecily Brown's art has been presented in solo and group exhibitions in galleries and institutions around the world. In 2018, she exhibited two large paintings in the main hall of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, an opportunity last afforded to the artist Marc Chagall in 1966.
Cecily Brown's artworks feature in major public collections in the United States, Britain, and Europe; among them, New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Hamburg's Deichtorhallen, Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Torino, Italy, and the Tate Modern in London.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2020
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