Cecily Brown’s solo show at Paula Cooper Gallery presents 13 large-scale paintings with the grandiosity—but none of the resolution—of history painting. The canvases, a mad-dash flurry of impassioned strokes, disclose the influence of the 17th century Flemish painter Frans Snyders, whose nature mortes initially assault the vision with violent, almost abstract dashes of color, before cohering into the carcass of a rabbit, fillets of red-fleshed fish, geese with great plumed wings spread wide. Brown’s new work—evocative also of thick forest glens, Bacon’s swatch of fleshy reds, de Kooning’s scribbled and obscured women — is similarly dense and streaked, but never quite conforms into recognizable shapes for long.
The paintings’ process of making is plain to see: the strokes close but thinly applied, the grain of the linen peeking through the thin curved residue of the brush that lifted paint off canvas. A couple of visual motifs thread their way through the works—I plotted cherry stems across Picture This (2020) and Stranded (2020), and met pairs of eyes, usually feline, in the maelstrom of multiple canvases. The lushness of these paintings is captured in their titles, which sometimes allude to a vanitas-like chaos and plenty—Lobsters, oysters, cherries and pearls (2020), The Splendid Table (2019-20), The Demon Menagerie (2020)— and are at other times evocative in what they suggest: When this kiss is over (2020). In Selfie (2020), orgiastic flesh in the foreground leads into a splendid interior in the background, the orthogonal strokes suggesting a salon-style hang of paintings, the curved ones tracing a round mirror reflecting riotous color. Ultimately, though erudite in her art historical references, Brown finds her own oeuvre just as rich: the five-panel Of nothing something still (2019)works over four digital printed copies of one of her own paintings, as well as the original. “Now I can steal from myself as much as from other artists,” she says.
Cecily Brown, When this kiss is over, 2020. Oil on linen, 89 x 83 inches.