Cecily Brown - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, March 6, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    'Armed and Fearless' | Cecily Brown

    Senior specialist Matt Langton discusses the New York based artist's core interest in the dialogue between abstraction and figuration, and how the study of both is expressed in this piece.

  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, Paris
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Gagosian Gallery, Cecily Brown, 19 October - 20 December 2014, n.p. (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    WE two boys together clinging,

    One the other never leaving,
    Up and down the roads going, North and South excursions

    Power enjoying, elbows stretching, fingers clutching,
    Armed and fearless, eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,
    No law less than ourselves owning, sailing, soldiering, thieving,

    Misers, menials, priests alarming, air breathing, water drinking, on
    the turf or the sea-beach dancing,
    Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasing,
    Fulfilling our foray.

    (Walt Whitman, ‘We Two Boys Together Clinging’, Leaves of Grass, 1855).

    Scintillating with riotous force, Armed and Fearless, 2014, is a deft example of Cecily Brown’s pulsating visual repertoire. Illegible at first glance, the present work transforms into a complex narrative upon closer inspection, as it reveals delineations of bodies and faces amidst a landscape of amalgamated lines. A study in abstraction, it provides insight into the artist’s unique working method that blends various legacies of Western painting – the dynamism of Rubens and Baroque art, the fleeting touch of Impressionist masters, and the lyrical flare of Abstract Expressionism. Powerfully evocative, the painting touches on themes that have come to characterise Brown’s oeuvre, namely sensuality, love, and human encounters.

    Included in Brown’s first solo exhibition in Paris in 2014, Armed and Fearless belongs to a series that exemplifies a loosening of the artist’s style. Upon viewing the artist’s pivotal show at Gagosian Gallery, French art critic Valérie Duponchelle compared Brown’s fresh palette to the bright colours of David Hockney, and her intimate subjects to the sensual canvases of Edouard Manet. The group of paintings exhibited, including Armed and Fearless, demonstrated Brown’s ease in balancing fluid gestures and vibrant colours; pulsating with excess, it typified the crux of the artist’s animated oeuvre, translating energy into tangible, coloured matter.

    In the present work, visceral strokes of fleshy pinks emerge from a landscape of atmospheric blues and greens, adopting the shape of nude bodies enmeshed in verdant fauna. Providing further insight into the composition’s intimate subject, the work’s title, Armed and Fearless, echoes a discreet line from Walt Whitman’s poem We Two Boys Together Clinging. Forming part of the poet’s Calamus, a short assemblage of poems that is believed to contain Whitman's clearest expressions on sensual love, We Two Boys Together Clinging is a vivid formulation of the tenderness shared by two lovers. The poem has had an enduring effect on contemporary literature and art alike, namely inspiring David Hockney’s 1961 painting of the same name. Portraying a couple locked in embrace, Hockney’s work proposes a more explicit representation of the scene at hand, and, laying out Whitman’s reverberated words against his two protagonists’ intertwined chests, weaves a complex composition that compounds poetry and painting. Brown’s canvas offers a more open-ended painterly rendering: in her work, the human silhouette that is easiest to decipher turns his back to the viewer in a corner of the canvas, resting like a siren in a sea of earnest strokes. The character’s nudity attests to the intimacy of the depicted scene, yet the composition’s overarchingly chaotic nature eschews formulaic precision.

    Over the course of her career, Brown’s stylistic development has been guided by evolving explorations of the relationship between abstraction and figuration. Whilst elusive bodily fragments have charged Brown’s compositions with sensuous connotations since the early 1990s, the artist has been gesturing more and more towards pictorial implicitness, letting her abstract strokes become a self-sufficient metaphor for sensuality. As Brown noted two years prior to the execution of this work: ‘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’ (Cecily Brown, quoted in ‘New York Minute: Cecily Brown,’ Another, 14 September 2012, online). In Armed and Fearless, smears and stabs of paint enhance the illusion of motion animating Brown’s twirling bodies. Commenting on the strategic translation of the theme of intimacy onto technique itself, she remarked: ‘I am not looking to paint the sexual act but rather to capture the intensity tied to sex’s inherent vital force’ (Cecily Brown, quoted in ‘Cecily Brown nous en fait voir de toutes les couleurs’, Paris Match, 2 November 2014, online).

    In contrast to other artists of the Young British Artists generation, who branched out into varied sorts of artistic production following the critical 1990s, Brown remained unequivocally focused on the painted medium throughout her career. She has continuously celebrated the qualities of oil paint, namely its extraordinary ability to catch light and convey fleshly physicality. The present work exhibits the artist’s prodigious skill in retaining a balanced composition despite unbridled strokes, harnessing a mass of transient swathes to form a single entity. As such, Armed and Fearless best encapsulates Cecily Brown’s desire to reflect the relentlessly complex gist of life: ‘The viewer is a living, breathing being that moves about in space and I want the painting to be experienced like that,’ she remarked. ‘I want the experience of looking at it to be very much like the experience of walking through the world’ (Cecily Brown, ‘I take things too far when painting’, The Guardian, 20 September 2009, online).


Armed and Fearless

signed and dated 'Cecily Brown 2014' on the reverse
oil on linen
195.6 x 139.7 cm (77 x 54 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2014.

£600,000 - 800,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £1,755,000

Contact Specialist
Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060 rwiden@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2019