Cecily Brown (b. 1969)
oil on canvas
100 x 110 in. (254 x 279.4 cm.)
Painted in 1999.
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1999

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Saara Pritchard
Saara Pritchard

Lot Essay

“The boundaries of painting excite me. You've got the same old materials—just oils and a canvas—and you're trying to do something that's been done for centuries…I have always wanted to make paintings that are impossible to walk past, paintings that grab and hold your attention. The more you look at them, the more satisfying they become for the viewer. The more time you give to the painting, the more you get back”—Cecily Brown.

(C. Brown, “I take things too far when painting,” The Guardian, September 20, 2009,

Cecily Brown’s painting straddles the line between figuration and abstraction by pushing the limits of perception, flirting with the ambiguity of form and embracing the power of the gestural brushstroke. As the title suggests Intermezzo is a work that occupies the charged in-between space in which the viewer plays a titillating game of hide-and-seek with the compositional narrative of the painting: oscillating between recognition and obfuscation. Brown challenges the spectator by simultaneously presenting the fleshy robust figures akin to the Old Masters like Peter Paul Rubens and the vigorous energetic brushwork of the Abstract Expressionists reminiscent of Willem de Kooning. Brown synthesizes the history of painting to create pulsating, sensuous and tactile aesthetic worlds that liberate their subject matter from vision’s conventional confines.

Intermezzo is a deliciously vibrating painting that explores the fragility of likeness, the frenzy of the painterly gesture and the subtle beauty of mystery. The palette consists of rich earth tones, deep forest greens and soft pink hues that fill the canvas with a formal tension, a constant sinuous pull of line and form. A round flesh-colored segment occupies the center of the canvas and disappears into a cacophony of agitated yet rhythmic brushwork. Horizontal swathes of copper paint plow forth from the left, while forest greens descend from the upper right. Despite this machismo of color and gesture, Brown adeptly softens these authoritative elements with sections of creamy white adding moments of quiet and respite from the fever of painterly expression. This juxtaposition of delicate and rough brushwork results in alternating breathes of blur and focus, mobility and stasis, disclosure and concealment. Brown permits the body to become part of the landscape, morphing the two together in a delicious fusion consequently rupturing the field of vision and gracing the canvas with a welcome sense of play. Looking at Intermezzo, the viewer is called upon to fill in the missing clues, the carefully forgotten elements of the narrative to decipher what may or may not be there. As Brown slyly states, “the place I am interested in is where the mind goes when it’s trying to make up for what isn’t there.” (C. Brown, quoted in R. Evrén, Cecily Brown: Paintings 1998-2000, New York, Gagosian Gallery, 2000, p. 8)

Cecily Brown creates paintings that are ambitious, grand and majestic while also being vulnerable, poetic and voluptuous. Intermezzo is contentedly immersed in the void between representation and abstraction expressing shifting, flexible dualities. Brown handles the paint with the ferocity of Joan Mitchell and the luscious physicality of Lucian Freud, thereby exploiting paint’s inherent visceral nature to sublimely suggest the body wavering between states of materialization: of being and non-being, of the sacred and the profane, of serenity and violence.

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