Signed and dated "Cecily Brown 2004" on the reverse.
$800,000 - 1,200,000
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Provenance Gagosian Gallery, New York
Exhibited New York, Gagosian Gallery, Cecily Brown, September 18 – October 25, 2008
Literature E. Wingate and R. Dergan, eds., Cecily Brown, Gagosian Gallery, 2008, p.176 (illustrated)
“ I love the trick of painting. You can have the movement within the still thing, but it is completely fixed. And that illusion is constantly exciting.” CECILY BROWN
Cecily Brown’s work has been described as “having all the elements of a masterpiece.” The present lot, S.A.P., 2004, remains a pivotal and vital painting illustrating the artist’s mastery and occupies an important place within the course of her celebrated career. The conflation of rich earthen and autumnal hues with vibrant reds, brilliant coral, delicate blush and pastel blues render S.A.P. a work of exceptional splendor and tender delicacy. S.A.P., is a work that solidifies Brown as one of the foremost painters of her generation, one whose communicative and emotive faculties is virtually unparalleled. Brown’s capacity for subtlety and clarity in the midst of apparent chaos is a trait that renders her voice so distinct. S.A.P. is a densely layered canvas full of fluid dabs, swirls, and blotches that reverberate, flow, flicker, and smoulder in a type of lyrical concert, a concert for which Brown could be the sole composer. S.A.P. impresses viewers with its beauty, virtuosity and splendour and reveals its many layers and facets through each swirling brushstroke.
By the time that Cecily Brown painted S.A.P. in 2004 she was already an incredibly instrumental figure in the resurgence of painting that occurred in the late 1990’s. Having graduated from London’s Slade School of Fine Art and under the tutorship of British painter Maggie Hambling, she embarked on a journey to New York, where soon after, her career flourished. Early on she introduced herself to the New York art world at the Young British Art exhibition opening by sporting an unconventional if not scandalous ensemble, marking her place as a bold figure within the newly reinvigorated painting scene. Brown is a figure whose intrepid ethos backed by tremendous talent gained her work much attention early on and helped catapult her incredible career. In 2004, around the time Brown created S.A.P., she had already cultivated a strong international following, earning solo exhibitions at the renowned Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, the MACRO in Rome, as well as at the Museo Reina Sofia, in Madrid, and that was just the beginning of her long and highly remarkable career.
Unlike many of her contemporaries, Brown has never shied away from discussing her greatest inuences. It’s almost as if she shares with them a profound and certain interconnectedness, a common pathos, in the pursuit of understanding, or in the positing of a question. One such artist is Willem de Kooning for whom she is admittedly in great debt. In Brown’s Flash Art essay “Painting Epiphany” in 1998, she states “The death of De Kooning may have something to do with the fact that his influence is more visible in current painting than at any other time.” It was at this juncture in her oeuvre that her work most outwardly favoured that of the Abstract Expressionist hero. Profound similarities lie not only in outward formal qualitative aspects of her work, but also in the common interest in role of figuration within an abstractionist practice, a matter which still occupies Brown’s work today.
Both Brown and De Kooning mastered a tension and fluidity within their painting that renders their work visually irresistible. While a master work like De Kooning’s Pink Angels, circa 1945, deals with the fragmented fluidity of the female nude, Brown’s work of similar subject articulates analogous theses via her capacity to express visual ferocity in concert with sadness, affection and tenderness.
The present lot, S.A.P., 2004, can be read within the context of De Kooning’s later work Two Figures in a Landscape, 1967. Again the common thread of figuration versus abstraction is present. The scenes of apparent bucolic scenery transform before the viewers eyes into a complex array of figurative components as the painting begins to reveal itself. S.A.P. remains a paragon of Brown’s unparalleled skill at articulating a figurative scene within a largely abstract and seemingly chaotic composition, in which the responsibility is on the viewer to engage with the work and allow the painting to disclose its intricacies.
Brown’s oeuvre also shares a perceptible connectedness with that of second generation Abstract Expressionist painter Joan Mitchell. In S.A.P. we see Mitchells’ influence in the retention of the traditional sense of pictorial space i.e. of figure and ground (versus the “all-over” compositional style heavily favoured by many leading Abstract Expressionist figures). Brown’s work also retains the same lyrical quality that made Mitchell a standout among her contemporaries. Like her predecessors, Brown is keenly adept at creating a sense of visual urgency and vitality without the cacophony and violence that characterized much Abstract Expressionist painting.