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Cecily Brown - More than feminism

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

Cecily Brown’s 5.36 sq metre work The Triumph of Death on display at Blenheim Palace. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Cecily Brown's work was shown to me in a feminist context and I had kept her in there, grouped with Jenny Saville and a few others for a while, using her as a shining example of a female artist who was reclaiming a painting style commonly perceived as masculine.

Perhaps this is true when researching any artist, that when you refer to media about them before media by or including them, it is easy for them to become reduced to a brand or one good idea. While she is inherently feminist and cannot step outside of that context, perhaps it was me that made the label reductive.

I recently watched a fascinating interview with her at the kunshistorisches museum where she talks about her love for Rubens and classical paintings by old masters, and suddenly a new pathway into abstract painting opened up. Perhaps in understanding and using abstraction in my work as a method for reduction and distortion I'm oversimplifying its qualities and therefore potential.

I have never made a direct link from a Rubens painting to an abstract expressionist piece like one of Cecily Brown's until I made the link through the love for paint itself, for colour movement and romance that is embedded into the scene weather it be representational or not, All the corny painter stuff that I guess I overlooked.

On her fascination with old masters, Jasper Sharp asks:

J.S: ‘You’ve said you feel jealous of the source material [in the renaissance paintings]…… You’ve always had this fascination with conflict and turbulence….. was it so much how they’re painting and how great they are as their subject matter?

CB:  Oh yeah, but I feel these days if you’re a painter there’s not really much point to it because you’re not recording and there’s so many other ways of commenting on the world that are more efficient and more direct, so I think what I’ve said I’m jealous of is, you can’t really do a massacre of the innocent today, I mean, I've done paradise and I’m working through these old subjects….  It [my fascination] was very much [for] the way it was painted. 

Screenshot from the video showing Cecily Brown in conversation with Jasper Sharp, Full interview is linked in references.



Brown, Cecily. "An Evening with Cecily Brown." By Jasper Sharp. Contemporary Talks Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. 03/02/2018, 2018. (Accessed 29/09/2021)

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