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Cecily Brown, born 1969 in London, is a British painter. Her style displays the influences of Francisco de Goya, Nicolas Poussin, Willem de Kooning, and Joan Mitchell while incorporating into her works her distinct female view point. Brown lives and works in New York City.
She studied B.Tech Diploma in Art and Design at Epsom School of Art, Surrey, England (1985–87), drawing and printmaking classes, Morley College, London, 1987–89, and BA in Fine Arts, Slade School of Art, London (1989–93). During her studies, she worked as a waitress and later in an animation studio.
Cecily Brown is often seen as part of one of several leading female contemporary painters, a group which also includes Charline von Heyl, Jacqueline Humphries, Laura Owens, Jutta Koether, Amy Sillman, and Emily Sundblad. Brown's work combines representational and abstract elements in sensual depictions of expressive figures and nudes. The sexuality and eroticism of Brown's themes is echoed in the rich colors, luscious painting handling and animated brushwork. The tactility of her technique stands out among her contemporaries and links her to the heritage of the Abstract Expressionists. Self-conscious of her connection with artists such as Willem de Kooning and Lucian Freud, Brown's work, however, interjects a fresh sense of humor or irony by titling her paintings after the names of famous musicals and films.
Brown was born in London, England, in 1969. She studied at the Slade School of Art, London, where she earned at B.A. in 1993. In addition to studying painting, Brown also studied printmaking and draftsmanship. Her work is included in numerous public collections throughout the United States. There collections included the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, both in New York, and the Tate Gallery, in London. Solo exhibitions include "Directions: Cecily Brown," at the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (2002); MACRO, Rome (2003); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2004); Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (2005); Kunsthalle Mannheim (2005-06); Des Moines Art Center, Iowa (2006); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2006–07); Deichtorhalle, Hamburg (2009); "Based on a True Story," GEM, Museum of Contemporary Art, The Haugue (2010 and traveled to Kestner Gesellschaft, Hannover); Essel Museum, Klosterneuburg, Austria (2012). Brown currently lives in New York.
Brown's paintings combine figuration and abstraction. Expanding the tradition of abstract expressionism, she has become known for her painting style suggestive of abstract and abstract expressionist painters such as de Kooning and Oskar Kokoschka. Sexuality and attraction are important themes in her work, which she explores through semi-figurative and abstract means. Her paintings also recall the works of Philip Guston and the Bay Area Figurative School of the 1950s and 1960s. Brown often titles her paintings after classic Hollywood films, such as The Pyjama Game, The Bedtime Story and The Fugitive Kind. In 2013, Brown based a series of paintings on a photograph of a large group of nude women that appeared on the British release of a 1968 Jimi Hendrix album.
In the February 2000 edition of Vanity Fair, Brown, along with fellow artists Inka Essenhigh, John Currin and others, appeared in full-color photographs taken by Todd Eberle. A photograph that appeared in The New Yorker made showed Brown from the back as she stood, cigarette in hand, studying one of her paintings.
Brown has received a lot of critical attention for powerful, athletically-sized canvases and bold brushwork. The assertiveness of her paintings has often been compared to Abstract Expressionist works which, during their time, were linked to a fierce masculinity. As a female artist working in this vein, Brown's works have been seen as confronting both this tradition and gendered assumptions about art. However, some recent critics have taken a different stance. In 2011 review for The Guardian, art critic Adrian Searle rejected the dynamic and assertive surfaces of Brown's art and wrote: "What's really missing in her art is character, and for all the hectic painting, a sense of necessity." Likewise, in 2013, Leah Ollman wrote a review of a Gagosian Gallery show for The LA Times, in which she observed: "Instead of powerful and passionate, her voice comes across as detached. The volume is turned up, but the verve is on low."
Solo exhibitions include “Directions: Cecily Brown,” Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (2002); MACRO, Rome (2003); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2004); Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (2005); Kunsthalle Mannheim (2005–06); Des Moines Art Center, Iowa (2006); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2006–07); Deichtorhallen, Hamburg (2009); “Based on a True Story,” GEM, Museum of Contemporary Art, The Hague (2010, traveled to Kestnergesellschaft, Hannover); Essl Museum, Klosterneuburg, Austria (2012). Her work has appeared at the Whitney Biennial 2004 in New York, The Triumph of Painting at the Saatchi Gallery, London and “Greater New York” at P.S. 1, New York.
Brown's work has attracted the attention of private art collectors including Elton John and Michael Ovitz. Her paintings are in the permanent collections of several important museums and institutions including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, in Buffalo, New York, and the Des Moines Art Center, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Brown relocated to New York from London in 1995. Since 2011, she has been working from a studio at a former office near Union Square. Before that, she maintained a studio in the Meatpacking District, Manhattan.