Cecily Brown’s latest monotypes accomplish what her best paintings do: they draw you in and they keep you looking. As with Brown’s canvases, the surfaces of these large monotypes are brimming with imagery that occupies a position between realism and abstraction. But the push-and-pull between recognizable forms and indistinct brush marks plays out especially elegantly in the monotypes. The fluidity of gesture between forms and non-forms in the new prints suggests spontaneity, even urgency. This quality is engendered by the particular monotype technique that Brown has employed and honed at Two Palms, where she has worked over the course of the last decade.
This series consists of nine monotypes, six of which were on view at the Armory Show in New York in March. They depict rabbits, snakes, owls, and other creatures seemingly plucked from a fairy tale. Jewel tones of emerald greens, deep purples and rich ochers variously mark fur, scales, vegetation and water. One can’t be exactly sure of what these animals are up to; they blend into each other and their surroundings too easily, as if emerging from their habitats or decomposing into the earth. But the latter seems inaccurate: energy, movement and vivacity characterize the barely-discernible subjects of these works and the brush strokes that form them.
At four by six feet each, these are Brown’s largest prints to date. They are comparable to the artist’s paintings in their monumentality and technique. To make them, Brown worked on a sheet of Plexiglas placed on the wall like a canvas, and used oil paint made of turpentine, dammar and linseed oil. The slick surface of the Plexiglas is especially conducive to the scraping away of marks. The ability to correct mistakes quickly and to work fluidly means that Brown can work more rapidly in monotype than she does in painting, sometimes producing several works in a given day. The swift application of paint to surface is apparent in the final prints, whose large surfaces capture the artist’s vigorous physical gestures.
Brown’s monotypes differ from her paintings in another way: the nine prints that constitute the series don’t merely share a theme – they share the same drawings and marks. When Brown completed an image, the Plexiglas template was placed in a hydraulic press and the image was transferred onto heavy Lanaquarelle paper. (The hydraulic press applies pressure to the entire template simultaneously, unlike a roller press, in which the pressure moves down the image as the template runs through it.) No matter what kind of press is used, however, a residue of ink or paint always remains on a template. Reusing the same Plexiglas surface for each image, Brown built upon the residue, or “ghost image,” from previous prints. This bolsters the visual cohesion between the nine prints and adds to the compositions’ mystique. The rabbit you’ve seen in one print presents itself again in another, but faintly, a thin apparition. Hidden behind layers of paint and barely visible, it is an uncanny remnant of something you know you’ve seen before.
Both playful and unsettling, Brown’s new monotypes exploit the drama of scale and the spontaneous, rapid brushwork that is fostered by the monotype medium. Her fluid gestures buzz with energy like the ever-shifting natural environments she portrays. The viewer’s eye won’t sit still.