Cecily Brown - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 24, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, USA
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    An exquisite work that evinces her idiosyncratic mastery of the painted medium, Cecily Brown’s Untitled #74 is as veritable gem within the artist’s prodigious oeuvre. Although better known for her large-scale works, Untitled #74 is an exquisite example of her smaller-scale, jewel-like paintings, a series which Brown began in 2008 to interpret the role of human scale and perception in her fragmented subjects through a variety of brushes and techniques. These smaller paintings which remain untitled are not studies for larger paintings, yet by being works in themselves where Brown explores and resolves ideas and forms that emerge in her larger work, acquire new significance in this format. Painted in 2008, the work gives a focused insight into the artist’s unique working method that stylistically compounds the trajectory of European painting – from the dynamism of the Baroque, to the fleeting touch of Impressionist masters, and the lyrical flare of Abstract Expressionism – whilst creating a painterly vision that is wholly unique, announcing her own position within the grand history of western painting. Here, Brown indulges in the most pure and free-handed abstraction of her career, eschewing concretely referential forms in order to give command to the vivacity of pure colour and the confident assiduity of her delicate brushwork. Whilst the fleshy pink tones and visceral reds of this intimate canvas ring with the erotic sensuality that characterised Brown’s earlier career, here she shifts her conceptual gaze from the life giving force of reproduction towards a more elemental vision of creation: against a darkened ground illuminated with the fractured matter of stardust it seems as if the artist looks to the cosmos and the fabric of the universe itself. Painted just two years after Brown’s major solo retrospective at the Museum of Fine Art Boston in late 2006, Untitled #74 expresses a stylistic apex in the artist’s career. Today Brown’s paintings sit in international museum collections including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Tate, London.

    Brown’s career has remained unequivocally focused on the painted medium, in stark contrast to many other artists of the YBA generation that she first worked alongside in London during the 1990s. She has constantly explored and celebrated the inherent tactility of oil paint and its ability to map the exquisite nuances of the painter’s hand as it glides over the canvas. Composed as a highly detailed study, the present work exhibits the enthralling versatility of oil paint and the artist’s ability to create a mesmeric metaphor for life itself. As Brown explained: ‘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.’ (D. Ashton, Cecily Brown, New York, 2008, p.25.) Utilising the brush as such, Brown crafts an abstracted appreciation of the natural world through an insistence on subjectivity. However in this process, the artist condenses art historical references and pays homage to her predecessors: the tactile strokes of Impressionism; the micro repetitions of Pointillism; the luridly luscious palette of Chaim Soutine; and the disquieting experience of Surrealist paintings, in particular calling to mind the coral-like details of the horse-woman in The Antipope by Max Ernst, which all inhabit this dense surface. From the 20th century, the early works of American Abstract Expressionists Phillip Guston and Willem de Kooning are also present. Exemplified in Untitled #74 is Brown’s unique ability to evoke and carry these weighted references on the peripheries of our consciousness, never making too direct an assimilation.

    Brown’s stylistic development has been guided by evolving explorations into the relationship between abstraction and figuration. Whilst abstracted figures and dislocated body parts charged earlier compositions with an intense sexual energy, here the artist gives over fully to the sensuality of pure brushwork itself, recalling her earlier themes with a stark economy of form. As the artist later noted: ‘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.’ (‘New York Minute: Cecily Brown,’ Another, 14 September 2012.) In the present work all bound forms have been dissolved, privileging instead the autonomy of individual tones which play off one another through a balancing of colour that seems at once calculated and intuitive. The charged flesh tones still populate the canvas intermittently with flashes of raw erotic energy, yet these are offset and animated by even sparser flashes of crystalline white highlights and instances of marine blue at the edges. Brown adopts shortened brushstrokes that fan out and circulate around one another in clusters, forming a dense palimpsest of texture. The intense layering appears to build from a dark and enigmatic ground that pushes the most vibrant colours further forward into our field of vision. As such, regular spatial appreciation is confused and the sensuous lines and washes of earlier works are usurped by a sense of mystery that evokes the dark and frenetic energy of the universe. Brown’s painting thus seeks to capture and create an essential life force: ‘I think that painting is a kind of alchemy…the paint is transformed into image, and hopefully paint and image transform themselves into a third and new thing….I want to catch something in the act of becoming something else’ (the artist quoted in Cecily Brown, New York: Gagosian Gallery and Rizzoli, 2008, p. 16.) In an accomplished work such as Untitled #74, paint is yielded into an ambiguous cerebral image as Brown endlessly titillates the human capacity for scopophilic pleasure.


Untitled #74

signed and dated 'Cecily Brown 07-08' on the reverse
oil on linen
41.9 x 31.8 cm. (16 1/2 x 12 1/2 in.)
Painted in 2008.

HK$1,200,000 - 2,200,000 

Sold for HK$1,875,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 25 November 2018