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Cecily Brown, Adrian Ghenie and David Hockney: The Highlights

On 26th November, we took a private group to view the work of three artists whose individual approaches to painting and drawing addresses the figurative/abstracted balance, and reflects on technology's influence within a contemporary setting.

Within Artscope's private programme, we arrange carefully designed tours of current gallery shows on view in London. These events are meant to inspire art enthusiasts who are eager to learn, discuss their views, or expand their existing knowledge. Last Saturday, we brought our group to see Cecily Brown at Thomas Dane Gallery, Adrian Ghenie at Thaddeus Ropac, and David Hockney at Annely Juda Fine Art.


Following some of the largest works Cecily Brown has achieved to date, many of which were displayed at the monumental Blenheim Palace show in 2019, visitors are encouraged to reflect on the artist’s capacity to work in both grand and intimate scope. Brown’s ongoing investigation between the abstract and the figurative is inherently linked to the viewers own engagement with form and colour, to independently extract from the scene, an experience notably diverse when the canvas differs so drastically in scale.

In Studio Pictures, “the grands formats are where you lose your breath, and the small paintings are where you lose your mind.” The intention of such intricate and complicated markmaking on a limited plane is to look closely, slow down, and consider the detail. There is a fetishized magnifying glass over the scenes in the smaller works that the viewer obsessively pores over, honing in over each detail in every attempt to download the complex and intricate display. The impact of Brown’s practice is in the exploration between dream and reality, where human form meets an ethereal landscape whipped up in an erotic or violent narrative, sometimes both. The challenge is to wander, and wonder, through the perceived and the intended by the artist’s hand.

Many of these works consider form and storytelling through additional mechanisms, an exciting tactic from the artist. Brown’s use of colour in each work is extraordinary, each one glowing in jewel-like purples, golden oranges and forest greens that work tirelessly to give the work its shape. In pioneering a new way for the viewer to absorb her scenes within a smaller frame, Cecily Brown’s Studio Pictures features a refocus of the lens that means we will never stop looking.

We continued to Thaddeus Ropac on Dover Street, to view Adrian Ghenie's latest body of work. Another profound example of the artist’s ongoing careful consideration of the form to content relationship, this is a preoccupation that is central to Ghenie’s practice. The artist investigates the possibilities of his mediums and to what extent their execution can best negotiate the complex and evolving significance of the subject matter.

Initially inspired by his surroundings during the Covid-19 pandemic, Ghenie observed the change in human form that is now hunched over mobile phones and other digital devices. In The Fear of NOW, Ghenie addresses physicality and composition in the technological age, whilst expertly navigating the corresponding social and cultural themes that coincide with such a critical influence on the human condition. He engages the history of painting and our collective memory to situate his practice within the contemporary, reinforcing the nature of our present using systems of reference from our past. We are confronted with inescapable truths about mass culture, the digital age and our relationships with these institutions.

Ghenie considers the influence of technology on our socio-cultural constructs with a particularly striking display of Marylin paintings. The paintings disrupt the iconic Warhol screenprints since Ghenie has reconfigured Marylin’s facial features into something grotesque and undesirable. In works such as Figure with Remote Control, where Ghenie shifts focus to individuals’ subservience to such technologies, the Marylin paintings reflect on our relationship to fame and the dissemination of images and alerts us to the extent this relationship has evolved since the 1960s.


Ghenie is aggressively alerting his viewer to the ugly truth that lies hidden behind the imagery that consumes us, a truth that is now much harder to see with the development of technological media. These concerns are what Ghenie would describe to be The Fear of NOW, a sentiment communicated terrifyingly yet beautifully through an exceptional attitude to medium and subject.

Finally, our group moved on to Annely Juda Fine Art, where the gallery is displaying 20 Flowers and Some Bigger Pictures, an extension of the iPad drawings series Hockney produced during quarantine at his home in Normandy in 2020. A crucial development in the artist's prolific practice, Hockney embraced the immediacy of the iPad to fully immerse himself in the subject matter available to him, turning what might greatly limit an artist into a substantial opportunity. Whereas Ghenie was inspired by the power of digital to morph and control us, Hockney is in fact liberated by it. His ability to capture the detail of sunlight reflecting off a glass, yet maintain a playful and soulfully abstracted style offers the viewers a new Hockney experience that is infused with the same powerful emotion.


At the centre of the exhibition, is the pivotal photographic drawing entitled 25th June 2022, Looking at the Flowers (Framed). Hockney is pictured twice, on either side of a wall displaying his flower iPad prints, many of which are in fact physically hanging within the gallery. The medium of 'photographic drawing' offers a 3D realism whilst artificial and cartoon-like at the same time, playing with our abilities to distinguish real and imaginary. The wall display, a display of a display, takes this a step further, reminding the viewer of what technology is capable of in challenging the ways we visually engage. A hugely promising and encouraging end to a day full of painterly exploration.


For more information on private programmes, please email kate@artscopeintl.com.


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