Offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening and Day Auctions respectively, Cecily Brown’s Blonde Eating Birds (2011-2012) and Henry Taylor’s Adam Janes (2011) stem from an important private collection of international contemporary art. Built over a twelve-year period, the collection is committed to supporting emerging, mid-career and established artists, displaying their work in public and private exhibition spaces across the world. At its heart lies a passion for contemporary painting, showcasing works defined by their tactile, colourful surfaces. These two outstanding canvases demonstrate the thrilling new directions that artists have sought for the medium in the twenty-first century.
In Blonde Eating Birds, visceral strands of paint are coerced into an electrifying symphony of colour, texture and form. Fleshy forms and verdant shades collide in riotous discord, creating a surging painterly jungle that oscillates wildly between abstraction and figuration. Completed in 2012, and unveiled in Brown's solo exhibition at the Essl Museum in Vienna that year, the work takes its place within a ground-breaking oeuvre that breathed new life into painting. Coming to prominence in the late 1990s, at a time when many considered the medium outmoded, the artist revelled in its sensory, carnal properties, re-conceiving the act of painting as a form of orgiastic alchemy. Whilst Brown’s titles often bear little relevance to the work, derived sporadically from sources including films, song lyrics and junk emails, the present painting seems to allude to René Magritte’s 1927 painting Young Girl Eating a Bird. Brown had made a number of earlier paintings referencing this theme – including the 2004 triptych Girl Eating Birds and the 2011-2012 diptych Girl Eating a Turtle Dove – but here the original source takes on a new degree of clarity. The girl’s uplifted arms, and the writhing bird in her hands, are echoed in the upper central portion of the canvas, her hair translated from brown to gleaming blonde. According to Magritte’s biographer David Sylvester – Brown’s father – the artist is thought to have based his painting on the poem ‘The Girl Who Ate Birds’ by Paul Nougé, published the same year. Surreal, sensuous and disturbing, the poem’s dark imagery finds new expression in Brown’s tableau, which flits unnervingly between the pastoral and the demonic.
‘Franz Kline said “oil paint never behaves the same way twice” and it’s true’, observes Brown (C. Brown, quoted in ‘Interview: Silvia Köpf in Dialogue with Cecily Brown’, in Cecily Brown, exh. cat., Essl Museum, Klosterneuburg, 2012, p. 32). Unlike her YBA peers, who favoured subversive, conceptual modes of expression, Brown sought inspiration in the unpredictable, malleable properties of paint. Absorbing the lessons of her forebears – Bosch, Brueghel, Titian, Degas, Delacroix, Fragonard, Soutine, Bacon and the Abstract Expressionists – she devoted herself to celebrating the physical pleasure of painting. Whilst many of her initial works were explicitly erotic in tone, her later canvases internalised this subject matter, featuring abstract flashes of naked flesh and flailing limbs. The rabbit that features in the top right hand corner of the present work conjures memories of her early paintings, which were frequently strewn with cavorting bunnies. ‘Cecily Brown’s paintings swing precariously from improvisation to more conscious control, from abstraction to figuration – avoiding closure, revelling in ambiguity and surprise’, writes Klaus Kertess. ‘Hers is an erotic maelstrom of brushstrokes ever welcoming to eyes in need of sensualisation. Her recent paintings have turned up the volume of this tumultuous beauty’ (K. Kertess, quoted in Cecily Brown, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, Rome, 2011, p. 1). In contrast to many of her works, whose origins are deliberately elusive, Blonde Eating Birds seems to riff openly on its macabre source. In its fantastical, carnivorous depths, the painting holds ecstasy and horror in equal measure.