On the eve of Cecily Brown's highly anticipated survey exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark 'Where, When, How Often and With Whom', UBS Art spoke to the artist about her influences.
Brown, who is British, graduated from London's Slade School of Fine Art. She remembers the early mentorship of painter Maggi Hambling in vivid detail: “Maggi’s drawing classes were hugely influential on me and so was her attitude and strong character. She lent me her garage to paint in, that was my first studio. I got into Slade on the strength of my portfolio but I wouldn’t have been able to make all that work without Maggi.”
Drawing was her entry point into art, while oil painting and watercolor are the two mediums she is best known for today. “Painting is a physical experience. It’s actually very much like dance when you start. I try and keep the whole thing moving, and make sure I go back, keep it all in motion.” This quest for dynamism naturally translates into material choices: “I love the way oil painting moves, the sensuality of it.” Restraint, on the other hand, is one of the words she associates with watercolor, a medium she favors for its sense of controlled freedom.
While she says that feminism never explicitly became a topic for her work, Brown's unique approach to abstraction and figuration is frequently interpreted as challenging art history's inequalities. The artist is outspoken in not overplaying her own intentions. "I don't feel that I'm painting as a woman.” One of the great things about spending time in her studio, she shares, is that it is not a space in which one needs to be aware of being a woman, even though the reality outside the studio can be very different. "When looking at a painting, gender is not on my mind. I was very late to even notice that most of the work I was looking at was by men."
A 2012 watercolor and gouache on paper work by Cecily Brown is included in the UBS Art Collection. It is part of a series of works loosely based on the 'The Torment of St. Anthony' by Michelangelo. Speaking on the series, Brown says “They very quickly become their own thing, and are easily the most abstract watercolors I’ve ever done. In a way it was just mark making, but they are very lively, suggestive marks, coalescing in making these moments and abstract narratives”.