Willem De Kooning: Conversation with Cecily Brown

CECILY BROWN: I was in art school at the Slade around 1989, and I distinctly remember looking at a catalogue of de Kooning’s work with some friends. Our game was to cover up the whole painting and look at just a detail, and marvel over the fact that even a detail would be an extraordinary painting. I don’t want to do the work a disservice in saying that every detail could be a painting, because they are incredibly well thought out. It was just realizing that every square inch of the canvas had a life, an energy and a strength. It was exhilarating to see somebody use paint in a way that appeared to be free, but obviously there was this great measure of control. Looking at him so closely, I feel like a student again in that I realize what I’ve been after is to combine a similar level of freedom with the incredible control that results in such tight, amazing paintings. I’m actually quite blocked at the moment. I’ve been to the show about four times, and I’m slightly in a crisis.

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Above images: (Left) Willem de Kooning, *Excavation, 1950, oil and enabel on canvas, 81 x 100.25”. The Art Institute of Chicago; Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Logan Purchase Prize Fund; restricted gifst of Edgar J. Kaufmann, Jr., and Mr. and Mrs. Noah Goldowsky, Jr. © 2011 The Willem de Kooning Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (Right) Cecily Brown, The Night of the Following Day, 2000, oil on linen, 75 x 60”. Photograph: Robert McKeever. © Cecily Brown. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.*