‘Your Painting Is Your Best Friend’


Cecily Brown at her studio in New York City. Credit…Danna Singer for The New York Times.

Cecily Brown, age 50, is the daughter of British writer Shena Mackay and David Sylvester, the art critic and curator. When Brown was 18 and struggling financially, the painter and sculptor Maggi Hambling let her paint in her garage.

“Maggi was the first real painter I knew,” she says. “Having the garage to paint in made the hugest difference. The work that eventually got me into the Slade was all made there. Maggi was also the person who told me I had to show up every day to paint or it wasn’t worth it. Your painting is your best friend — there when you’re down as well as up, she’d say….”

After finishing at the Slade, Brown moved to New York’s “friendlier” art world.

“In London, it was called a private view… In New York, it was called an opening… Desire itself was my driving force. Desire drives painting too. Sex was the closest thing to painting in the real world.”

Brown made a series of paintings based on “Ladyland,” a 1968 studio shot of 19 naked young women used for a Jimi Hendrix album cover. She realized reluctantly they “wouldn’t be simple positive depictions of women…”


“Untitled,” 2012, by Cecily Brown. Credit…Rob McKeever.

“Eventually I decided it couldn’t matter, and that in fact the true subject might be my conflicted and complicated feelings about… women and womanhood, being gazed upon, being a gazer oneself… thinking about women’s culpability, and women of our time who have helped set us all back decades, like the Kardashians.”

(Rachel Cusk, “Can a Woman Who Is an Artist Ever Just Be an Artist?” NYTimes, 11-7-19)

(c) 2019 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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1 Response to ‘Your Painting Is Your Best Friend’

  1. Eric Wayne says:

    Conflicted feelings about the gaze and culpability… I rather think her father’s writing is more current and timeless.


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