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Titania Awakes/Love-in-Idleness

Titania Awakes/Love-in-Idleness
signed, titled and dated 'Glenn Brown Titania Awakes/ Love-in-Idleness 2014' (on the reverse)
oil on panel
72 x 48in. (183 x 122cm.)
Painted in 2014
Gagosian Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
J.-P. Stonard, 'Glenn Brown', in The Burlington Magazine, August 2014, p. 559.
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Glenn Brown, 2014 (illustrated in colour, pp. 105 and 150; details illustrated in colour, pp. 99 and 100-101; installation view illustrated in colour, p. 106).
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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord

Lot Essay

Riddling together painting and theatre, Glenn Brown’s Titania Awakes/Love-in-Idleness is a vision of enchanted strangeness. A visceral bundle of organic matter is suspended against a sparkling night sky, expertly rendered with smooth, photorealist swirls of pigment. Painted in 2014, it demonstrates the masterful blend of painterly illusion and historical appropriation that has defined the artist’s practice since the 1990s. The work’s title is sampled from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: ‘love-in-idleness’ is the flower with which Oberon bewitches the sleeping Titania, fating her to fall in love with the first living creature she sees upon waking. Its subject matter, meanwhile, is drawn from Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s early eighteenth-century work Still Life with a Leg of Veal, echoing the contours of the painting’s raw meat. There are overtones, too, of Henry Fuseli’s 1794 canvas Titania Awakes: his own depiction of the Shakespearean scene, featuring Bottom as a donkey – the unlikely object of Titania’s misguided affections – with his arms clasped around his knees. Myriad associations are born of these collisions: of reverie, seduction, animal instinct and the primal allure of the flesh. Brown’s allusion to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, moreover – a play set in the twilight zone between waking and slumber – speaks to the central conceit of his practice. ‘[My paintings] exist in a dream world’, he explains, ‘a world that is made up of all the accumulated images stored in our subconscious that coagulate and mutate when we sleep’ (G. Brown, quoted at [accessed 6 January 2020]).

A student of Michael Craig-Martin at Goldsmiths, and a contemporary of artists such as Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili and Peter Doig, Brown came to prominence amid the rise of the YBA (Young British Artist) generation. Among his early influences were Gerhard Richter – whose photorealist technique inspired much of Brown’s own – as well as ‘Pictures Generation’ appropriation artists such as Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman and Sherrie Levine. His works start life as sketches, which determine size, colour and form; he then spends time leafing through art-historical images, trying to find a match for his proposed painting. Like Francis Bacon, he favours printed reproductions, delighting in their remove from the original. Frequently, he employs digital technology to bend the image to his parameters, stretching and molding it to his will. Artists such as Asger Jorn and Georg Baselitz were among his earliest victims: Brown relished the trompe l’oeil effect of flattening their thick impasto strands to a smooth, hyperreal sheen. Over time, he would come to appropriate a huge variety of artists – from the Old Masters to the Impressionists, Expressionists and Surrealists – pairing his deformed images with mismatched titles. ‘I’m rather like Dr Frankenstein, constructing paintings out of the residue or dead parts of the artists’ works’, he explains (G. Brown, quoted in R. Steiner, ‘Interview with Glenn Brown’, in Glenn Brown, exh. cat., Serpentine Gallery, London, 2004, p. 96). The present painting, with its glowing image of translated flesh, speaks directly to this assessment.

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