I am interested in the unfixed nature of things. I want the work to have a trapped energy so that the paint seems to vibrate in place. I want the viewing of it to approximate the experience of being in the world.
Reverberating with its tantalizing choreography of painterly gestures, Cecily Brown’s Park is an electrifying work of abstraction laced with sublime hints of representation. Created in 2004, Park presents Brown’s supreme mastery over gesture and pigment and in their commanding power of suggestion. With lyrical swathes of verdant greens and azure blues, deep accents of rich earth hues and feverish accents of flesh tones, Park elusively evokes earth, sky, flora and fauna as well as suggestions of garden architecture: a pillared low wall, a water fountain, from which birds seem to take flight. Towards the lower right portion of the diptych, a particularly intense maelstrom of extraordinarily deft yet thickly textured brushwork dances and writhes with the zeal of intertwined bodies, presenting a finely honed balance between the abstract and the explicit. Brown’s feverish brushstrokes, executed with the bravura in line with the very best of her distinct style, engage the vernacular of painting itself, capitalising on the sensuality of the medium and its ability to playfully manipulate the viewer’s perception through descriptive possibilities. As with the very best examples of Brown’s corpus, Park illuminates the magical potential of paint to unpack the admixture of sensorial faculties that makes up our human experience of seeing.
Rooted in the lineage of pastoral landscape painting, Park recalls updates of the genre as undertaken by Édouard Manet’s infamous Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863, and Paul Cézanne’s Bather paintings. Like Manet and Cézanne, Brown presents a contemporary take on sexuality with the garden as setting; indeed, sexuality has played a central role in Brown’s work since the very beginning. However, in Park, sexuality is enacted directly in the application of paint – historical composition breaks into surges of energy and loosely organised swatches of colour and light. Brown has described her chosen material of oil paint as “sensual [because] it moves, it catches the light, it's great for skin and flesh and heft and meat. I wanted to make something that you couldn't tear your eyes away from. I like the fact that because my earlier work was so known for having erotic contents, I actually need to give very little now and it's seen as erotic or hinting at erotic” (the artist cited in “New York Minute: Cecily Brown”, AnOther, 14 September 2012).
As Johanna Drucker writes, “The higher order of compositional organization in Brown’s work references the grand tradition of theatrical landscapes filled with figures allegorical, historical, or observed. Their imagery calls forth terms that stream from the antique – gambol and dalliance, virtue and pursuit, bucolic revels and pastoral delights – a kind of visual play on scenes of Arcadia… She engages with her sources as if in a lover’s provocation to another touch, another exchange, excitement rising with response at the level of the mark, swatch, line of the brush drawn through the wet paint” (Johanna Drucker, “Erotic Method”, in Cecily Brown: Paintings 2003-2006, New York, 2005, p. 9). Amid the swathes of luscious brushwork at the lower right of the composition, the flashes of oily-wet flesh tones recall the twisting bodies of Titian and Rubens. Under her brush, Brown’s figures dissolve into or coalesce from dense and bristling passages of paint, grappling and wrestling with each other; caught between violence and eroticism, they seem to melt into the grass and sky.
As evident in the present painting Brown unabashedly invokes the flourishes, gestures, and moods of a long line of predecessors, from Rubens' flamboyance to Francis Bacon's dark-spirited Expressionism to Willem de Kooning's angry, sexualised abstractions. Perhaps most evidently, Brown’s visual language and handling of pigment and paint is informed by the gestural mark-making of the American Abstract Expressionists. However, unique to Brown’s abstract vernacular is her allegiance to the potential of the figurative; in the artist’s words: “It’s this total back-and-forth between my will and the painting directing what to do next. Things just naturally break down and become more abstract. When things get too abstract, I definitely feel like I want to bring the figure back. There is a line that I'm always striving for that's not half-way between figuration and abstraction, it is both. It's almost like pulling a moment of clarity in the middle of all the chaos.’ (the artist cited in “New York Minute: Cecily Brown”, AnOther, 14 September 2012). Pushing the boundaries of both painterly application and loaded subject matter, Park is a work of immense complexity and breadth that superbly encapsulates the core essence of Brown’s distinctive painterly style.