Monday, 2 February 2009

Cecily Brown
Modern Art, Oxford
17th July 2005

Black Painting #4, 2002
Oil on Linen 198 x 229cm

Generally her titles can be misleading, but in this series she is clearly acknowledging the link with the late works of Goya. The paintings depict sleeping nudes haunted by their dreams; but instead of the owls and demons of Goya’s caprichio “The sleep of reason…” we have winged genitalia.

I don’t know what she has used for a source image, but I presume they are based on her own photographs of a reclining nude, but they could be from a magazine or a figure from an old master. I have read nothing to suggest she has worked from life. In this painting, the position of the figure is a mirror image of Goya’s La Maja Desnuda with the oppressive black space behind the white bed linen echoing Goya’s treatment.

Brown often explores the relationship of the audience to paintings and voyeurism is a theme that pervades much of her work. Here the eyes are closed and we are invited to enjoy the eroticism of viewing unobserved. In general I don’t find her work particularly melancholic, but this one is an exception. This is partly to do with the sleeping figure and partly caused by the black background pressing down on the figure.

The canvas size, like all her work, is large giving plenty of scope for paint manipulation and expressive mark making. She draws inspiration for marks and technique from abstract expressionists, notably De Kooning, Bacon and Guston but her work is peppered with references to many artists. Whilst most of her work stands independent of the historical references, this series relies heavily on the association with Goya. For me the reference calls to mind his disillusionment with enlightenment and makes me wonder what if anything Brown is disillusioned with!

The black background has opaque oil daubed, flicked and brushed to create a surface rich in marks and movement. Flesh tones in this piece are warm, but in others in the series they are cooled with lemon yellows and ultramarine blues. The sheets are layers of thin greys and whites with hints of colour and contrast with the background both in colour and style.

She frequently works on a series of paintings at one time; sometimes completing individual paintings quickly, at other times returning to paintings frequently over a longer period. She speaks of trying to spread her ideas across several canvases. Her technique is to work once over the whole canvas, then rework until she feels it is complete. She acknowledges the danger of over-working a painting and wants the illusion of immediacy.

More generally Brown has a great ability to manipulate paint on canvas as well as a rich array of mark-making skills. She does not work from preparatory sketches but prefers to work straight onto the canvas with paint. She leaves her work unglazed, but the paint is usually quite oily adds to the richness.

©blackdog 2009

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