Sunday, August 23, 2020

...between the eye and the brain - Cecily Brown

“I want to make forms that are either just dissolving or in the process of just becoming something and to play with the relationship between the eye and the brain.”

From time to time I go through works of many women artists, I don’t do that intentionally but they catch my eye more than their male contemporaries. I think there’s so much more happening in the canvas with all the told and untold stories that may or may not relate but for the most part, it’s the former that happens where ever they come from. I think there’s an invisible thread, a link that runs through the lives of the likes of us that coincide at some point. There lies a universal phenomenon beneath each surface.

Cecily Brown was born in London in 1969. A graduate from the Slade School of Fine Art, Brown moved to New York from London in 1999. She was just 29 when she made it enormous in the International Art scene; the Allbright-Knox, the Tate, the Whitney Museum, the Rubell Collection, the Broad Museum all made major acquisitions of Brown’s earlier works, certainly an incredible achievement for a young artist of her time. She is already in the echelons of the expensive female artists in the world.

 Cecily Brown-between the eye and the brain
Cecily Brown

Brown addresses herself as a figurative painter. As a child, she used to sneak into painting books of Francis Bacon and George Grosz, the German painter (known for his Butcher Shop paintings) and she liked the horror and scariness that it imparted more than anything else. Brown needs a body as a vehicle to talk about being alive and to understand the world else she feels that there remains nothing but smears of paint. She feels concerned with completed figures and finds the need to break it down. The cacophony of glaring, grimacing and fragmented figures as subjects, some evident, some loosely drawn and some hidden, all the same unmistakeably figurative like some elusive short-hand Brown’s adept at, reduced to complexions and sometimes veiled expressions and a whole kaleidoscope of fleshy pinks, oranges, browns, purples and grey fill up her canvas. There’s a tug and pull of painterly effect and figurative content amid the brimming human presence. Her aesthetic is characterized by sexual imagery and abstract expressionistic gestural style.

Brown likes it when nothing’s pinned down or determined, to be in a state of flux, in the process of becoming which I think is quite a wonderful place to be just as we might say that the journey is much more enjoyable than reaching the destination. She’s not into pure abstraction like later Rothko or Barnett Newman as she herself mentions. She conjures up images and is influenced by Masters like Rubens, Poussin, Goya, Titian, Degas, Miro, Gorky, Joan Mitchell and William de Kooning, the abstract expressionist. Brown takes in from history paintings and places it in her own aura of the canvas where she strips them of their past and breathes into them a new lease of life unconnected to where they belonged. The Young Spartans Exercising and La Coiffure (Combing the Hair) of Degas influenced Brown immensely particularly with the fleshy tones and figures in the former and the inherent menace in the latter which were brought to her notice by Bacon, she mentions.

Be Nice to the Big Blue Sea - 2013-between the eye and the brain-HnS
Be Nice to the Big Blue Sea - 2013

Borrowing the names of classic novels, plays, and Hollywood films such as The Fugitive KindThe Bedtime Story, Those are pearls that were his eyes, High Society, or The Pajama Game, she utilizes it to her best and makes her titles quite fascinating.

Sexuality, eroticism and attraction are important themes in her works which Brown explores through the churning of embracing couples pressing against one another forming and dissolving into a gorgeous watery landscape, the palette is luscious and fleshy, the subject is romantic and athletic in execution but refined all the same. Figures in a Landscape 1 and Figures in a landscape 2 are sister-paintings both in prestigious collections. These were two of the exceptionally famous works that fetched her an incredible sum to begin with.

Figures in a Landscape1-2001-between the eye and the brain-HnS
Figures in a Landscape 1

Cecily Brown’s Bunny painting reminds me of Paula Rego’s earlier bunny paintings as well and Rego happens to be one of my favourites. What I find appealing in Brown’s canvases are the fleshy tones and the painterly texture that extends all through her wide canvas. Her story-telling has a signature style which she instills from a series of source images that are laid out in her studio and she works from them without directly holding, looking and drawing from it as she has become an adept after years of working from images, some are repeated too.

Where, when, how often and with whom? is a 30-foot-long triptych (donated to Louisiana Museum of Modern Art) The 2 central figures appear like apparitions, veiled as their eyes are washed off. They remind Adam and Eve’s expulsion.  Another aspect that appears in the same work is the shipwreck as in Delacroix and Gericault. Brown speaks of the impending violence when the French cops surrounded a lady in *burkini and asked her to remove the excessive clothing on a beach in Nice a couple of years ago which happened to catch the news. She speaks of the viewers who appear to be complicit voyeurs on the beach. I agree when Ms. Brown mentions that even in this century women are told how they can and cannot appear at a particular place say here a beach. Voyeuristic viewing appears as the subject in her painting; there’s always a voyeur there. She likes to respond to the things that she has seen. It just happens to point that how violent our society is, there’s always an underlying menace. She likes to think of herself being the intermediary feeding off the past and giving it to the future. Horror and sweetness are the constants in her canvas and of course some drama. 

Where, when, how often and with whom?-2017-between the eye and the brain-HnS
Where, when, how often and with whom?

One needs to be physical and performative at a bigger scale like Brown’s. They are incredibly ambitious and fill up entire walls.

The ones I admire more are of a darker nature along with the above mentioned like All the nightmares came today and Black Painting 1. I like the ominous quality to it. 

All the nightmares came today-2012-between the eye and the brain-HnS
All the nightmares came today

Amidst all the cacophony nowadays people wear headphones and weave in and out not realizing that they are going to bump in on someone at the last instant. They are totally unaware. They are so engrossed in the gadgets. The phone has brought about the death of society in a way. The figures in the paintings are unaware of the other though they are in the same physical space but they are not connected. This disconnectedness in today’s society is the tipping point.

Agreeing on those terms, I feel we are totally engrossed in our petite compartments that we are no longer bothered about what’s happening at the larger picture. If only we took some time to pause and look around, we would notice where we are heading.

*Burkini - a portmanteau of burqa and bikini - a woman's swimsuit that covers the entire body, leaving only the hands, feet, and face exposed. A type of modesty swimsuit for women.

images: Artspace, Pinterest, Sotheby's, Artnews. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

On Creativity and a couple of my Poems

If you ask me what I love more - painting or writing, it's difficult to decide. I love both, equally. Both have their own merits. Sometimes my visions come out through painting, sometimes through writing and sometimes both; some being repeated and reinforced. It’s difficult to pick one! As I recently replied to *Sonia’s blog post - Did the form find me? where she talks about the process of her writing. Such conversations with myself had been there for a long time and what with Big Magic. I am coming to that in a while. I don’t start with the whole, I begin with a vision/dream, catch-phrase, a sentence basically a fragment that keeps repeating itself to me so much so that I have to let it free, out into the world of reality. It takes a form and life of its own without any support from me, I feel. All the same, you are in a state of limbo until you finish it. You do not exactly know how it's going to go. 

It’s like what Elizabeth Gilbert says in **Big Magic – it’s something external, something outside of ourselves that provokes us into creativity. It was believed in ancient Greece and Rome that creativity did not come from human beings but it was a divine attendant spirit that came to you from some distant and unknowable source for a distant and unknowable reason. It was called Daemon; a genius spirit. Even Socrates believed that he had a daemon who spoke wisdom to him from far.

“I am subject to a divine or supernatural experience… It began in my early childhood – a sort of voice which comes to me; and when it comes it always dissuades me from what I am proposing to do.”

Socrates as reported in Plato’s ‘Apology of Socrates’, around 399 BCE

Romans called it Genius which were magical divine entities who were believed to live on the walls of an artist’s studio.  There was this distance, a psychological construct, to protect you from the results of your creativity.

Homer, Virgil and Ovid believed that they had no talent of their own and that it was “breathed into” them by gods. Plato believed that poets became possessed during creation like some soothsayers and that it was some kind of divine frenzy. Vasari mentions Michelangelo as “directly inspired by God” in The Lives of the Artists. Einstein called it “a sudden illumination, almost a rapture”. Liz calls it “downright paranormal”. Even our very own ancient authors in the Vedic ages have attributed their creative outpour to God's voice and they themselves being merely a conduit.

Then came the era of rational humanism and the individual, self became important and genius came from within. That was too much of a burden for a mere mortal to handle according to Liz (and I do second her).

I am so fond of her story of the famous American poet, Ruth Stone who as a girl used to hear her poem thunderous and barrelling towards her and the whole earth under her would shake and then she would start running like hell to get a piece of paper and a pencil. Sometimes she would reach her house on time to collect her poem sometimes she would miss it and at other times as the poem moved away through her, she would grab it by the tail while writing on one hand and drag it into her and then the poem would appear backward; from the last to the first word.

Okay, now after all this talk about creativity and genius, my intention is not to talk about all that is magical and supernatural but there are times when you do feel mysterious and magical; that which can not be explained in normal terms of the tongue. I don't mean it happens every time but there are some rare ones. 

Without further ado, I just want to put forward my humble attempt at writing poetry. These are the poems that were appreciated when I submitted it to the Asian Literary Society. I have been contributing to the weekly and bi-monthly prompts since June. I had been writing for some years but wasn’t showing it anywhere (until around 2018 when I started submitting it when some close friends and family encouraged me to do so) though except a couple of them in this space here. You can check it under the tag Poems.

This post is to all my friends (real and virtual) who have been asking me to post my poetry and of course to all my lovely readers. Please do read and leave your feedback.

Below are 3 poems – Soldier (Certificate of Excellence), Thunder (Third Prize) and The Haunted House (Outstanding Performance). Titles are in bold letters. Images are all my digital manipulations from free photos.



The air rancid, smoky and scathing

Hills bellowing, mud floating, eyes burning

To the acrid acids of burning tanks and ‘broken wares’

Breath choking to the fury of both sides

Bodies muddled in mud, bleeding wet bond of blood

Facing death at each step, explosions devouring the valley

Where we tread hushed through barricades and trenches-

Like slopes of the valley at some boys’ road trip on a heyday-

The town stands flaming, distant shells bombarding

The land murky and scarred, battered to dust

The soldiers walk stealthily cold fear possessed

It’s a distant call, remote from our legions

Prominent men make agendas for conquering regions

In well-lit breezy rooms over a glass of champagne

While life and will of the common man is overstepped

No choices offered, martyrs made and sidestepped

For personal glory and amassing a fortune for conglomerates.

Like all siblings they did compete in sport

In all life’s adventures

The sky their home, their favourite playground

They ran hither thither

They loved their company, always near

Never needed any other

But there were times when they fought

Losing track of time

The sky rumbled all day and flashes appeared

Lightning wriggled like a snake

But sharp and white, fiery in its form

Just behind thunder roared

And rocked the long and wide dorm

Thunder always a step ahead

Lightning that shook the spell

Made her despondent the way things fell

Yet once the downpour cleansed their being

Like any sibling, they become jovial twain

Until another time when things went awry

And they tended to fight again.

Each house is a haunted house

With an imperceptible story

From a prior date of dwellers

In the past who are now on the walls

The silent pictures speak a thousand tales

Of hidden secrets and stowed details

As you walk from room to room, do you realize

The phantoms cascading in invisible guise?

-Treading – gliding – treading – gliding - 

They tread and glide without noise, they sit

On the staircase by the door that creaks a bit

As I move around doing my chores...sometimes less

Sometimes more, I hear -- (heart pounding)

-Pounding – pounding – pounding -

I hear them in the silence of the night.

The night so dark that it stares right back, in

The fabric of that night – if you stare hard enough-

One can see the forms pressing from the other side.

-Pressing – pressing – pressing -

Intangible impressions of the invisible hosts who

Dwell after we bid adieu (we may join them too)

Each house is then a haunted house.

*Sonia Dogra is an absolutely amazing blogger-writer I came across recently whose work Unlocked: Historical Tales in Verse was the first piece I read and was blown over simply because I never thought that anyone could write about history so beautifully in verse. It's apt for school kids and young adults to know more about the interesting facets of history. Sonia blogs at A Hundred Quills.

**If you are a creative and/or any human for that matter, you should read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert at least once. This is one book I go back to every now and then. There's so much one gain from it and it's truly a work of genius. I am a HUMUNGOUS fan of Liz and her words are soul-stirring for me at least. Every time I listen there's something new to learn. So do give it a try. If you have already read it, do share your thoughts.

Watch this video On Fear, Authenticity and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and Marie Forleo.

I am linking this post to ISWG (Insecure Writer's Support Group) and PPF (Paint Party Friday).