Cecily Brown's Garden of Earthly Delights

Feb 7, 2013 12:33AM

"People say to me, you paint like a man from the 1950s; and I say, someone’s got to do it." - Cecily Brown

New York-based artist Cecily Brown is happy to have her painting style described as hovering between abstraction and figuration: "I’ve always wanted to have a lot of different ways of saying something, maybe sometimes to the detriment of the paintings," Brown says, "so that you might have a veil of paint that suggests some very delicate skin, but then I’ll want something very meaty and clogged next to it." (‘New York Minute’, AnOther Magazine, 14 September 2012).

Brown’s style may appear instinctive and rapid, but it is in fact carefully constructed and historically aware. She is constantly looking into the past, while letting her paintbrush guide her forward. She has said, "I take all my cues from the paint" (‘New York Minute’), and this aspect of her practice can be likened to that of American Abstract Expressionists Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. It also bears comparison with Francis Bacon’s figurative paintings, in which bodies are often seen in tense relationships; it was Bacon who said that he wanted to create "rivers of flesh", a highly appropriate phrase to describe Brown’s own sensuous treatment of the body.

"I have always wanted to make paintings that are impossible to walk past, paintings that grab and hold your attention." - Cecily Brown

While the British-born Brown acknowledges a shared interest with her YBA contemporaries concerning "basic sex and death type things, a certain violence" (‘New York Minute’), Brown’s range of interests and variety of influences including Hieronymus Bosch, Chinese eroticism, Aubrey Beardsley and El Greco. East of Eden perfectly embodies Brown’s chains of association and breadth of inspiration. The title itself refers to the Biblical land of Cain’s exile – situated east of Eden – a phrase later taken by John Steinbeck for the title of his great American novel, made still more famous by the subsequent 1955 film, in which a young and dangerously sexual James Dean made his smouldering debut. Thus the title is a witty and ambiguous slogan to describe a work that is explicitly sexual, and which raises a subject often considered taboo in Anglo-Saxon culture.

East of Eden will be offered in our Contemporary Art auction, 14 February 2013, in London.