Description: B. 1969
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76 x 98 in. 193 x 249 cm.
signed, titled and dated 97-98 on the reverse; signed and dated on the stretcher
oil on canvas
Deitch Projects, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1998
New York, Deitch Projects, Cecily Brown: High Society, April - May 1998
Exh. Cat., Oxford, Modern Art, Cecily Brown: Paintings, 2005, fig. no. 1, p. 49, illustrated in color
High Society was the centerpiece and title painting from Cecily Brown's second solo show at Deitch Projects in New York in 1998, a showcase which precipitated her rapid rise to celebrity and international recognition. While the artist considers the series of works exhibited one year prior to be her first mature paintings, it is not until the present series that we experience the full carnal physicality of her sexually charged surfaces in which the human form is fragmented, distorted and fetishized to this degree of priapic potency.
Unlike the previous series which employed an iconography of bunny rabbits as incongruous human surrogates in order to subtly diffuse and displace the implicit violence of the sexual scenes, in the High Society paintings the bunnies are metamorphosed into human figures in an orgiastic maelstrom of contorted limbs and fleshy orifices. Named after the 1956 Hollywood musical starring Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly, High Society ironically draws on the traditional Broadway genre where illicit romance and repressed passion are directly veiled within cultivated codes of social etiquette. From among the turbulent coterie of coital bodies, we glimpse men in tails and top hats, the decadent fashions that hark back to a bygone age of feigned innocence, incongruously juxtaposed with Brown's explicit idiom gleaned from sources as diverse as seventeenth-century erotica and hardcore pornography.
Combining figuration with abstraction, Brown fractures and buries her explicit erotic imagery in a vortex of frenetic strokes and scrapes. In this picture, the analogy between painting and sexual intercourse is complete with the literal equation of sensuous paint with sensuous body. Insinuating physical experience, Brown's pigments become malleable and voluptuous substitutes for flesh itself and the blurred lines, swipes and trails of paint materialize the movement of the climactic body, a latter day analogue to Yves Klein's Anthropometries. Up close, the surface fragments into impossibly energetic, random gestures and orgasmic marks; Brown holds her seductive, creamy layers of pigment in exquisite tension with the violence of her imagery. Expanding the tradition of Expressionism, she engages with the lexis and praxis of painting, drawing her influences from the carnal quality of paint that links Chaim Soutine, Willem de Kooning and Francis Bacon, putting a feminine twist on a male dominated art history that she encountered during her academic training at London's Slade School of Fine Art. In High Society, Brown has taken the sexual power and energy that formerly was the exclusive domain of the Abstract Expressionist male painters and unashamedly claimed it as her own.