Brown graduated from Slade School of Fine Art in the early 1990s before moving to New York, where she continues to live and work today. Her art revitalised the theme of the figure in stark contrast to the conceptual Young British Art movement which prevailed in Britain throughout that decade. While her early work is overtly figurative and often highly eroticised, her later works evolved towards more ambiguous abstraction.
Cecily Brown’s practice encompasses thick lush paint in which faces and bodies dissolve into masses, alluding to a sense of cognitive space within a vivid, energetic canvas. Her rich application of paint emphasises fleshiness and movement, recalling techniques used by the Abstract Expressionists. The bodily-charged abstractions of Willem de Kooning, who once remarked that ‘flesh is the reason oil paint was invented’, continue to be a vital influence for Brown. Her own raw, gestural approach to painting also recalls the meaty, sometimes violent masterpieces of Francis Bacon and Chaïm Soutine. The dynamism and vigour which characterises her work signify the amalgamation between painting and its process, and the importance of the ‘physical’ within her art.
Brown also seeks inspiration from Old Masters such as Brueghel, Rubens and El Greco, as well as 17th-century Flemish still-life painters. She has explored themes of hunting, human conflict and the relationship between youth and death. Her acclaimed exhibition held at Blenheim Palace in 2020 both challenged and paid tribute to the art of the past, critiquing notions of power through subversive visions of Britain’s history.
Brown’s large-scale paintings continue to command millions at auction and are widely exhibited internationally, making her one of the most celebrated female painters today.