Cecily Brown b. 1969


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Cecily Brown makes paintings that give the appearance of being in continual flux, alive with the erotic energy of her expressive application and vivid color, shifting restlessly between abstract and figurative modes. Making reference to the giants of Western painting-from Paolo Veronese, Peter Paul Rubens, and Edgar Degas to Willem de Kooning, Francis Bacon, and Joan Mitchell-as well as to popular culture, she commands an aesthetic that breaks from the strictures of narrative to achieve an extraordinary visual and thematic fluidity. Her vigorous treatment of the nude figure in particular reveals a commitment to wresting conventional subjects free from their anticipated contexts. Punctuating her visual shorthand with moments of startling clarity, Brown maintains an endless, active present.


Raised in suburban Surrey, England, Brown studied under painter Maggi Hambling before attending art college. Her graduation from the Slade School of Fine Art in the early 1990s coincided with the rise of the Young British Artists but she didn't share the group's conceptual focus, ironic stance, and embrace of celebrity culture. Having spent six months in New York as an exchange student in 1992, she returned there to live in 1994, and, alongside contemporaries such as John Currin, helped to invest figurative painting with a renewed energy and critical significance that has continued to gather momentum.


Key to the success of Brown's aesthetic is her ability to seemingly transform paint into flesh, embedding the human form within a frenzied, fragmented commentary on desire, life, and death. Her first major body of painting, from the mid-1990s, juxtaposes hedonistic rabbits with allusions to the still-life tradition; eventually, this led to the orgiastic scenes that would garner her wide and enduring recognition. In Brown's hands, paint seems always to be in transition between liquid and solid, transparent and opaque states, and this material ballet is reflected in compositions themselves. "I think that painting is a kind of alchemy," she has said. "The paint is transformed into image, and paint and image transform themselves into a third and new thing."


Related Categories: Contemporary British Art, United Kingdom and Ireland, Gestural, Interlaced Bodies, Oil Painting, Dynamism,  20th Century Art,  Large Brushstrokes/Loose Brushwork, Women Artists, New York Artists, Contemporary Gestural Abstraction, Painting