Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Exhibition Catalogue, London and New York, Gagosian Gallery, Glenn Brown: Three Exhibitions, 2004-09, p. 118, illustrated, p. 121, illustrated in colour
Painted in 2003, Brown’s Dirty is a masterpiece of painterly illusion and artifice. Seemingly composed of a swirl of expressionistic brushstrokes, closer inspection reveals a surface almost unnerving in its lack of impasto and texture. Created through painstaking application of the brush, Brown here fashions a mocking homage to the work of the American Abstract Expressionists, in particular that of Willem de Kooning, whilst further referencing the painterly style of Auerbach and Baselitz. Brown acknowledged the importance of de Kooning and Chaim Soutine as particular inspiration for his technique: “The work wasn’t always about the brush marks, but they have developed as a fascination of mine. I suppose it is born of my desire to be the sort of painter that is able to manipulate those bravura, quick, elegant and speedy brush marks. I want to be Soutine, I want to be de Kooning… but that’s just not me. I can’t do it that quickly…” (the artist cited in an interview with Lynn MacRitchie in: Art in America, 4th March 2009, n.p.).
The amorphous fleshly mass that dominates the centre of the canvas approximates the gravitas of traditional portraiture, whilst refusing to conform to any obviously recognisable elements of the genre: only the somewhat incongruous presence of a halo, delicately floating above the ‘head,’ provides a point of orientation for the viewer. Brown detailed his interest in the potential symbolism of the halo in an interview with Craig Burnett: “It definitely refers to Catholicism and to religious portraits, biblical portraits, anyone deemed worthy of a halo, from the Virgin Mary to Kings and various saints. I like that very simple signifier of saintliness. It still has connotations of purity. And to put it on a figure that is very definitely not pure, or in the case of Dirty, isn’t even a fully formed head. It doesn’t even have an eye, an ear, a mouth or a nose. It’s a mutant human being, or I suppose it’s almost how I feel as a human being, not perfectly formed” (the artist cited in an interview with Craig Burnett, ‘Glenn Brown: The Divine and the Dirty’, Contemporary Magazines, 2004, n.p.). With the inclusion of a halo, Brown places Dirty within the tradition of religious art that has formed such a major part of the Western artistic canon throughout the centuries, in particular during the Renaissance, whilst, at the same time, providing a firmly contemporary and realist twist on a highly traditional theme.
The title Dirty alludes to Christina Aguilera’s eponymous 2002 song, which reached the top of the UK charts shortly before Brown completed this particular painting. Brown recalled the impact of the song, making particular reference to Aguilera’s role: “She appears very gutsy and violent but also has a sort of innocence to her. She has a lot of things built into her persona, put across both in the song and video to the song, and I just wanted to get a bit of that into the painting… When she pulls a face, is she beautiful or ugly? I like that…” (the artist cited in: Ibid.). This dichotomy between the conventional ideals of beauty and the opposing tenets of ugliness seems particularly apposite to Dirty: an important work within Brown’s oeuvre that masterfully encapsulates many of the artist’s primary concerns and ideals.
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