Cecily Brown has become a significant presence in contemporary painting.
Her large paintings often balance De Kooning’s pale patches of paint with echoes of the pastoral washes of English watercolours and Bacon and Freud’s meaty applications. A loose allusion of faux-gestural marks and a disciplined car-crash of organic forms building into a sliding accumulation of vegetable chaos straining to indicate an animal, a figure or a torso.
The twitchy sliding layers of almost-imagery can become strangely claustrophobic. Often the paintings suggest a flighty grabbing of subjects, themes, historical models, of types of representation.
She smears the chaotic minutae of Bosch’s Garden Of Earthly Deights into near abstraction with the unreliability of memory and the necessity of images to still the erosive movement of time a constant in the paintings.
With Brown’s work it feels as though there is a suspicion and disdain for the seductive properties of matter tempered by a resigned love for the stuff - seduction, penetration, pleasure and pain all alluded to.
As a counterpoint to this play with the substantial substance of paint, Brown currently has an exhibition of ‘Shipwreck Drawings’ at Manchester (UK) Whitworth Galleries.
The display shows two groupings of nine drawings, one of eight, along with a more conventional horizontal hang of three drawings and two isolated smaller ones.
The wall text / promotional blurb notes that all drawings are reworkings of areas from four paintings of post-shipwreck survivors; three by Eugene Delacroix, ‘Christ Asleep During The Tempest’ (1853) and an accompanying preparatory study and ‘The Shipwreck Of The Don Juan’ (1840), as well as Theodore Gericault’s seminal ‘The Raft Of The Medusa’ (1818 -19)
Often they have large areas of muted primary coloured washes, occasionally supplemented with a grassy green, overdrawn with grey-black charcoal and pencil line drawings of groupings and clusters of bodies. These primary washes tend to move the eye around the picture space in opposition to the suggested movement of the linear complexity of the studies.
Heads, torsos,and bodies seem almost compressed into vagually triangular scrambles of shapes. They seem chaotically restricted rather than huddled which is fairly reasonable for images culled from images of shipwreck survivors on a fragile raft of wood.
And yet the theatrical pile and tangle of suggested imagery lacks the gravity of the physical bulk and sweat of human bodies.
A strong reminder that Brown’s enterprise is very much a restaging of earlier compositions and images and an indicator of her practice as an offshoot of the 1980s artworld appropriationist bent.