Cecily Brown - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Wednesday, October 2, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Gagosian, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘I have always wanted to make paintings that are impossible to walk past, paintings that grab and hold your attention. The more you look at them, the more satisfying they become for the viewer. The more time you give to the painting, the more you get back.’ - Cecily Brown

    Timidly delineating two living silhouettes amidst an abstract flurry of greens, blues and browns, Cecily Brown’s The Crab and Lizard, 2012, presents a hectic tableau disrupted by flashes of figuration, encapsulating the artist’s sensorial approach to the act of representation. Both decipherable on sustained inspection in the lower-right quadrant of the composition, the two titular creatures provide a narrative and context to Brown’s otherwise tantalisingly abstract scene, allowing the viewer’s gaze to rove more assuredly across the painting’s surface. Once noticed, these two arresting figures elucidate the nature of their surroundings as a tempestuous forest, brimming with natural force. Demonstrating Brown’s ease in balancing fluid gestures and vibrant colours, The Crab and Lizard is a vivid materialisation of her desire to ‘make paintings that are impossible to walk past, paintings that grab and hold your attention’ (Cecily Brown, quoted in Perri Lewis, ‘Cecily Brown: I take things too far when painting’, The Guardian, 20 September 2009, online). Haptic and hypnotic, the present work is as engaging in subject matter as it is in pictorial rendition and technique. It hovers between abstraction and figuration in a moment of revelry, effectively creating a painterly rapture that allows the viewer to delight in the ever-shifting motion of Brown’s sumptuous palette and whirling forms.

    Capturing the raw gestures of the artist’s hand as it glides across the canvas, The Crab and Lizard posits as a physical interaction in itself. As such, it materialises Brown’s desire for painting ‘to embody the same sensations that bodies would’, likening the picture plane to a host of sensations (Gary Wood, ‘Cecily Brown: I like the Cheap and Nasty’, The Observer, 12 June 2005, p. 1). To achieve this, the artist adopts shortened brushstrokes that fan out and circulate around one another in clusters, forming a dense palimpsest of texture. However, unlike a large portion of Brown’s work dedicated to physical sensuality and human presence as subject matters, the painting focuses on non-human creatures, echoing the artist’s sentiment that ‘I always prefer to use animals, as their meaning seems less didactic than when you use humans’ (Cecily Brown, in conversation with Alain Elkann, Alain Elkann Interviews, 24 February 2019, online).

    Building from a body of work that she began creating in the 1990s whilst studying at the Slade School of Art, London, Brown remained focused on the painterly medium throughout her career, in stark contrast to her YBA peers. She has constantly revelled in the inherent tactility of oil paint, as well as its capacity to map the exquisite nuances of the painter’s hand as it moves across the painting’s support. A highly detailed and pictorially rigorous composition, 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’ (Cecily Brown, quoted in Dore Ashton, Cecily Brownn, New York, 2008, p. 25). Utilising the brush as such, Brown crafts an abstracted appreciation of the natural world through an insistence on subjectivity.

    Continuously quoting from a rich lineage of painterly tradition, Brown’s compositions share stylistic affinities with European Old Master figure painting, Abstract Expressionism, and Gutai. The Crab and Lizard is evocative of such artistic thrusts; its swathes of luscious impasto recall the idiosyncratic gestures of Kazuo Shiraga, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning, as well as Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon’s frenzied, yet deeply psychological pictorial renderings. Speaking of her creative process, Brown explains that she takes ‘cues from the paint, so it's this total back-and-forth between my will and the painting directing what to do next’ (Cecily Brown, quoted in ‘New York Minute: Cecily Brown,’ Another, 14 September 2012). The Crab and Lizard exemplifies this beautifully; with its free-flowing tides and its expressive vigour, the composition holds some of Brown’s most treasured painterly qualities, which have hailed her one of the foremost artists of our time.

Property of an Important Collector


The Crab and Lizard

signed and dated 'Cecily Brown 2012' on the reverse
oil on linen
78.8 x 58.5 cm (31 x 23 in.)
Painted in 2012.

£250,000 - 350,000 ‡♠

Sold for £483,000

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
Director, Specialist
Head of Day Sale
+44 20 7318 4065

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 3 October 2019