“I think once I stopped caring quite so much about where I fitted in, and whether it made any sense to be painting, I started getting more and more absorbed in it.”

Cecily Brown, “Indian Tourist,” 2008, oil on linen, 97 x 89″ Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

In the Guardian, Perri Lewis and  Cecily Brown talk about the painting process. “You’ve got the same old materials – just oils and a canvas – and you’re trying to do something that’s been done for centuries. And yet, within those limits, you have to make something new or exciting for yourself as well as other people. I have always wanted to make paintings that are impossible to walk past, paintings that grab and hold your attention. The more you look at them, the more satisfying they become for the viewer. The more time you give to the painting, the more you get back….Often, I find it really hard to see what I’m doing when I’m in the thick of things. I can get too precious and have to force myself to put my paintings aside. There’s a wall in my studio where I hang paintings that I think are done or nearly done. Over time, I’ll realise which ones are working and which aren’t.

“There’s never a moment for me when I consciously add the last stroke. When a painting is 90-95% there, it’s especially difficult because you know that it’s really close and you also know that you could completely ruin it. Of course, I do often ruin things. I take things too far, and can’t get them back….The problems don’t get any easier just because you’re exhibiting. I’m still faced with the same difficulties as when I first started to paint. But you’d never make a mark if you started worrying too much about how it will be received in the world, or if anyone is going to look at it. You can’t have all that in your head while you’re in the process of making a painting.

“I think once I stopped caring quite so much about where I fitted in, and whether it made any sense to be painting, I started getting more and more absorbed in it. I’ve discovered that the more I paint, the more I want to paint. The longer I go on doing it, the more I have to say and do. You pose a certain set of questions in one group of paintings and you want to answer them in the next. One body of work leads naturally to the next – you sort of feed off yourself. It’s a question of accepting the limits of painting and trying to be as imaginative and expansive as possible within those boundaries.”

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  1. I really enjoyed reading this and I couldn't agree more.

  2. This is gold! Wise, refreshing and honest words. Thanks for posting it.

  3. My feeling is once you've been seriously collected and acclaimed like Brown has, THEN you don't have to worry so much about where you fit it – You're IN.

    And generally it's a lot harder to get thrown out than to get in.

  4. excellent read, wise words.
    i agree that when painting, one must let go of how one thinks it will be received- easier said than done. every artist ought to have that as a goal, to release oneself of such concerns, because they really are limiting.

  5. Cap: Whilst I can appreciate what you say I wonder how such cynicism helps. Yes it's a luxury to be able to care less about positioning when you're already IN but doesn't there need to be a measure of hard work, compromise or self doubt to experience before one can even get to that point, privileged background or not. Hasn't she done those hard yards? I say, more power to her and less sour grapes.

  6. CAP wrote this earlier today and I rejected it by mistake (driving and texting, etc. ) so here it is:

    No sour grapes UP.

    Her process is pretty familiar, (it would be hard to disagree with any of it) but all the struggle and doubt HAS TO include where you see the stuff fitting in.

    These are not just idiosyncratic quirks when you fret over finish or finishing, scale, composition, color and so forth, for personal comfort. These are the things that will make it good for others.

    Brown is welcome to her success, but I don't think she's being entirely honest here. She acknowledges the need to make something new or exciting for others, but behind that is the whole thorny problem with how these things 'fit' for others.

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