Neville Wakefield is the Curator of Frieze Projects at Frieze Art Fair.
Cecily Brown is an English painter working in New York.
Here is a short and funny interview of Cecily. It provides insight into the way she works. Most people think she makes de Kooningesque paintings of sex scenes. But perhaps a bit more goes on:
NEVILLE WAKEFIELD: What have you been doing lately?
CECILY BROWN: Several large paintings, nine foot square, which are quite complex. And then I wanted to do something much more specific, as sort of an antidote to the big ones, so I've been working on paintings that are of just a single male figure in the midst of a canvas.
NW: Nude, I presume.
CB: No, semi-clad. Some are wearing shirts, some are wearing underwear. But most of them have their dicks out.
NW: Are they recognizable as portraits?
CB: No, they're fairly anonymous. But each one has a distinct personality.
NW: Where does the personality reside, in the dick?
CB: In the dick, in the clothes, in the face. I suppose the men are mostly wanking. But it's a challenge to do it so it's not the first thing you see, and not the only thing you see. I tried to do one figure with his pants on, and that ended up being the only painting that is, like, pornographic. But I don't want people to think they're just about shock value. Dicks just seem like an interesting thing to paint.
NW: You started out making these Bacchanalian bunny scenes, a bit like Beatrix Potter on Viagra, followed by large, all-over paintings of orgiastic body parts. With your new work you continue to use sexual imagery to explore the relationship of flesh to paint.
CB: I've heard them described as if they're sexual imagery obscured by a painterly flourish. Which I think is completely wrong. I think they're more about tension than the depiction of sex.
NW: You once said that painting is a metaphor for sex. . . .
CB: I kind of wish I hadn't said that.
NW: [laughs] Why?
CB: Because I think sometimes the sexual content gets in the way of people seeing any further. Sometimes people just stop there and don't realize what else is going on, though I think painters usually do. In a way, these works are painters' paintings, because there are so many formal things going on. The paintings are really meant to draw you in and keep revealing themselves.
NW: But the subject is perhaps what prevents people from seeing the wood from the trees?
CB: Well, I hope people can get past that, and I think you can from the way I've painted them. What's interesting is the dick actually takes up a small amount of the canvas, in terms of actual inches. But people look at it first, and they can't stop staring at it. And so far, it's straight men who have had a bit of a problem with them. I don't think men are even aware they're being made uncomfortable, but they instantly don't like my painting. Most women really like them.
NW: Finally, where do you draw the line between art and pornography?
CB: I think it's in the eye of the beholder. It's really down to the viewer in the end. I don't think my paintings are pornographic. They may bring on a certain state of mind, but I don't think they're arousing. There's too much else going on. I think it's pretty hard to make a pornographic painting, because you're juggling so many things.
NW: Have you tried?
CB: No, I haven't. I've done a lot of straightforward depictions of sexual acts, though I don't think I've made a pornographic painting. And I don't care if I have, because I think pornography's OK. [laughs] You know, anything that brings a little joy into the fold.