No contemporary artist today is immune to the struggle of paint and painting. While artists and critics alike may argue painting has lost its pre-eminence as a contemporary medium, in looking at Cecily Brown's canvases, none could dispute paint's power to engage, excite and transform. Brown's turbulent and confident use of color and form confronts the viewer in its undeniable physicality. In Way Beyond Compare, a masterful example from 2003, Brown tips more than a cursory glance at Poussin, Watteau and 19th Century Romanticism. However, unlike the finely and delicately rendered figures and forests, Brown's handling of her medium is a "mix of fast and slow, thick and thin, a virtuosity of handling and a deliberate clumsiness, of images held in suspense, between recognition and pure gesture" (S. Cotter, Cecily Brown Paintings, exh. cat. , London, 2005, p. 44). The physical properties and the range of possibilities within Brown's paint are seemingly endless. Her canvases are sites of impulsive exuberance, of a spontaneous action that requires both a physical and mental response, necessitating the hand, the mind and the eye.
"The body retains an image of everyone and everything it has ever come into contact with-everyone and everything it has touched, held, brushed by, bumped up against, and so on-and this is also the image that will tend to work its way out through the brush, which is closer to the hand than to the eye. The eye, in turn, imposes corrections, re-visions, as if training the hand to see as it does. Sometimes it succeeds, though generally not here. In Cecily Brown's paintings these two ways of seeing (no doubt there are more) remain always partly at odds. It is an opposition that she is able to orchestrate, as though without trying, into a troubled kind of beauty. This is the secret of her success-it is as simple as that. As least it is in writing, in theory, where this point can be summoned up in a sentence or two. However, in practice, in paint, it opens onto a delirious rift that can be explored indefinitely" (J. Tumblir, The Paintings of Cecily Brown, exh. cat., New York, 2002, p. 10).