Cecily Brown (b. 1969)
signed and dated 'Cecily Rose Brown 97' (on the reverse); signed again and dated again 'Cecily Brown 97' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 152.4 cm.)
Painted in 1997.
Deitch Projects, New York
Charles Saatchi, London
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 18 May 2001, lot 416
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Works from the Douglas S. Cramer Collection
D. Price, Young British Art: The Saatchi Decade, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 455 (illustrated in color).
New York, Deitch Projects, Cecily Brown, February-March 1997.
Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Directions: Cecily Brown, November 2002-March 2003, no. 1 (illustrated in color).
Des Moines Art Center and Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Cecily Brown, August 2006-January 2007, no. 8 (illustrated in color).
Cecily Brown's Untitled is an important early painting from the artist's first mature body of work. Executed in 1997, this large scale canvas was produced for Brown's first solo exhibition in New York, which shocked and excited critics and collectors alike with the sensuous richness of her paintings' materiality, as well as their raunchy subject matter. Untitled's multi-figured composition is a roiling mass of forms where details occasionally snap into focus as the eye searches out the margins of one brushstroke to the next. Yet what the viewer finds is far from the cute and coyly sexual image of the anthropomorphized bunny established by the likes of Walt Disney and Hugh Hefner. This is instead a violent bunny bacchanal, where two giant rabbits with engorged penises frame the centrifugal scene like sumo wrestlers, grasping smaller members of their species in each humanoid hand as a huddle of indistinct creatures looks on from behind them. These larger animals seem to form a sort of sadistic, ritualistic circle that descends into a blurred and radiant vortex of small coupling bunnies. It is a delirious and deliberately overwrought image, evoking something of Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights in its complexity, its gruesomely comedic subject matter and its peculiar sense of scale. Untitled's turbulent surface also manifests a virtuosic painterly performance. Oily-wet layers of seductive paint both hide and reveal the sinful activities taking place in this peepshow. Unable to decipher figure from ground, or for that matter figure from figure, the orgiastic scene is not immediately perceptible. Bodies tumble, undulate and morph into one another in a compressed all-over composition that swims in a whirlpool of blood-red paint and white hot light, punctuated with flirty flashes of blue and mauve.
The voluptuous energy of the gamboling bunnies in Untitled pre-empted the human couplings that would soon appear in Brown's paintings, punning on the promiscuity of the subject while pushing the limits of pictorial space. "I was using bunnies more or less as human surrogates," Brown explained. "As they progressed they were becoming more and more human--especially the genitals--and I realized that I couldn't avoid the issue of painting the human figure any longer. While the bunnies had been in somewhat 'real' space, I needed a new way to emphasize the fact that this was an invented space. Obviously, the bunnies existed in a fantasy land--as soon as humans were involved, it seemed the only way to approach it was to start messing with scale and space much more. It wasn't so much the use of sexual imagery that created a release, it was the attempt to bend and twist pictorial space. I wanted to get the figure off the ground, as in the earth, and integrate it more with the flat ground of the picture. That was probably when I first started trying to use ambiguous space, one that defied gravity. I wanted it to be impossible for the viewer to know where they stood in relation to the action" (C. Brown, quoted in S. Cotter, "Seeing Double," Cecily Brown: Paintings, exh. cat., Modern Art Oxford, 2005, p. 41).