The painting tells a story, but you’re not sure what it is. Cecily Brown’s The river’s tent is broken suggests any number of stories—it could be an argument, a game or a courtship. And there’s a dog’s head, possibly two. You could fall right into this painting, exploring the depths with your eye and emotions.
As with much of Brown’s work, The river’s tent is broken is a fusion of abstract shapes and recognizable, incomplete figures blending into the whole. You can’t quite tell what is going on, but you see nude bodies in motion, gesturing, in a swirl of energy revealed in layers of color.
Brown herself explains: “The whole figurative/abstract thing is about not wanting to name something, not pin it down. I’ve never wanted to let go of the figure, but it keeps wanting to disappear. It’s always a fight to hold on.”
A British painter, Brown, 48, is known for her rich depictions of sexuality and eroticism, sometime aggressive, violent or even repugnant, in lush depths of color. She came to New York City in the mid-1990s. While a new wave of “Young British Artists” dominated London, Brown became a star of the New York City art world.
She has been compared to Willem de Kooning, using the same kinds of animated brush strokes and color palletes. The catch? His paintings tend to depict women as grotesque or monstrous, where Brown’s are an examination of human nature in all its sexuality, violence, excess and nastiness—with a woman at the brush.
In case you’re wondering, The river’s tent is broken title is drawn from T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” The chapter is essentially about how modernity is wrecking everything, including the spiritual side of sexuality. So, perhaps the painting is about a man and a prostitute, or two people whose relationship has fallen apart, or something in between.
Brown often makes literary or cultural references in her work, but you don’t have to know the references to enjoy seeing the work. The power of a good abstract-ish painting is that it allows you to bring your own associations into it. Maybe you have an encyclopedic knowledge of art history and literature. Or maybe you just want to look an interesting painting. In which case, we suggest The river’s tent is broken.