‘These works flicker at the hallucinatory edge between figural representation and gestural abstraction... sustain[ing] a condition of indeterminate specificity, a state of prolonged tension on the edge of final definition, deferring closure’ (J. Drucker, ‘Erotic Method’, Cecily Brown: Paintings 2003-2006, New York 2006, p. 5).
‘Whatever one thinks of her subject matter, one thing can’t be denied: Brown can paint. Her canvases recall the slashing brushstrokes of de Kooning, the meaty flesh of Soutine and the dissolving forms of Francis Bacon’ (E. Heartney, ‘Cecily Brown: High Society at Deitch Projects’, in Art in America, June 1998, p. 131).
Cecily Brown’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, 1997-1998, is a heaving maelstrom of debauchery dissolved to the precipice between abstraction and figuration. The monumental work forms part of the artist’s High Society series, characterized by titles inspired by the idyllic technicolour movie musicals of the 1950s and 1960s. Extending nearly two and half metres in length, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was created during a period when her organically visceral compositions were gaining public acclaim and attention following her first successful exhibition in 1997 at Deitch Projects. The present work was featured at her second solo exhibition at Deitch Projects, New York, a show which ‘effectively launched her on the international circuit’ (S. Melikian, ‘Another Stampede in Bullish Market’, in The New York Times, 11 May 2006). Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a heady kaleidoscope of fleshy pinks, crimson and black, set against a gestural landscape of aqua and chartreuse green, which evokes a sense of wild passion and sensuality. With titles appropriated from classic Hollywood musicals, Brown’s High Society series re-images well-known stories such as Merry Widow and The Gorgeous Hussy in torrents of viscous layers of fleshy-hued oil paint. Referencing the 1952 film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, loosely based on the Ancient Roman legend of the Rape of the Sabine Women, the fluidity of Brown’s paint in the present work complements the various activities which playfully emerge from this rowdy mass of colour. With its fully loaded brushwork, riotous colour and suggestive imagery, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers embodies all the hallmarks expected in an eminent work from Cecily Brown’s practice.
In the present work, Brown translates the naïvety of the movie into a pulsating, physical experience and projects it onto the sprawling arena of her canvas. The rolling mass of impastoed paint offers moments of epiphany where the figurative elements of the composition align, only to dissipate into the margins of the next brushstroke. Baroque in scale and raucous subject matter, creamy layers of seductive paint simultaneously obscure and reveal the activities at play. Heavily loaded brush marks coalesce to form tumbling bodies of pink flesh, undulating and morphing into one another to form a compressed all-over composition. With twisting body parts emerging from the ripples of paint, Brown’s imagery evokes the more classical fleshy forms associated with Rubens. An artist who acknowledges the deep influence of the art historical canon on her own work, Brown’s genius lies in her ability to take the qualities of these old masters, churn them through an eddy of post- War abstraction, and in doing so, make them uniquely contemporary meditations on painting.
As unabashedly erotic exploration of abstraction and figuration, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers presents sexual acts exploding on the canvas, which seem to melt into pools of brushwork seemingly as soon as they emerge. Unable to decipher figure from ground, figure from figure, the orgiastic scene is not immediately perceptible. The result is a painterly ground of staccatoed punctuations of fluid pigment that engage the eye. ‘Whatever one thinks of her subject matter, one thing can’t be denied: Brown can paint. Her canvases recall the slashing brushstrokes of de Kooning, the meaty flesh of Soutine and the dissolving forms of Francis Bacon’ (E. Heartney, ‘Cecily Brown: High Society at Deitch Projects’, in Art in America, June 1998, p. 131).