Acquired from the above by David Teiger in 2004
Rooting the scene in the tradition of landscape painting, Sock Monkey features innovations on historical sources. On the edges of the canvas, trees frame Brown’s central erotic actions in paint, a reference to a long lineage of pastoral landscape painting as well as 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 is presenting a contemporary take on sexuality. However, in Brown’s style, sexuality becomes enacted directly in the application of paint – historical composition breaks into surges of energy and loosely organised swatches of colour and light. As critic 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).
Central in the composition, amid the swathes of luscious brushwork, emerge two anonymous protagonists. Broken down into flashes of oily-wet flesh tones they recall the twisting bodies and forms of Titian or Rubens, and are indebted to the fractured spaces and flesh of Willem de Kooning's Women. Within her corpus, Brown’s figures dissolve into or coalesce from dense and bristling passages of paint, just as the pair of lovers do here; grappling and wrestling with each other, caught between violence and eroticism, they seem to melt into the grass and sky. Brown’s painting uses the history of sex and violence of Western art history; exploring notions of fear, mortality, and the passage of time, as well as erotic love. She pushes her medium and her subjects around, fearlessly activating her canvas. As evident in the present painting Brown unabashedly invokes the flourishes, gestures, and moods of her predecessors, from Rubens's flamboyance to Francis Bacon's dark-spirited Expressionism to 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.
Sock Monkey is the embodiment of Brown’s vernacular, pushing the boundaries of both painterly application and loaded subject matter. As Drucker has authoritatively explained: “Her painting isn’t defined by the subject matter of intimacy, but by the methodology of its intimate dynamic as a system of production among others. Surface play and figurative reference dissolve through a system of exchange, calling on an inventory of visual sources. Brown’s painterly economy of erotic method engages the resources of paint in the pleasure principle of return on all investment, savvy and informed” (Ibid., p. 9).
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