Cecily Brown: Rehearsal, curated by Claire Gilman, Chief Curator at The Drawing Center, brings more than 70 of Brown’s drawings to Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara for her West Coast debut. Arranged thematically, this exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on the artist’s drawings, which foreground her iterative reworking of motifs from a wide-ranging arsenal of source material, including prints by eighteenth-century draftsman William Hogarth, pages from animal clip-art books, and the cover of Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 album Electric Ladyland. These drawings are not studies for her widely-known paintings but rather a distinct form of aesthetic inquiry, one that isolates the investigatory impulse that is inherent in Brown’s work.
Where Brown’s canvases revel in the visceral immediacy of paint, her drawings offer fragmentary motifs that build upon and undo each other. Their logic productively relates to the concept of ‘rehearsal’—a term derived from the Old French rehercier that originally meant to go over something again with the aim of more fully understanding it. The notion that this repetitive action was geared toward a culminating performance was a later conceit that has obscured the original definition of the word as valuing inquiry in its own right.
In keeping with the original definition of rehercier, what we witness in Brown’s sketches is the artist’s desire to visualize and respond to the images that attract and confound her. Indeed, Brown has said that learning to draw is teaching yourself how to see. Painstaking and obsessive in their efforts to work and rework either an entire scene or the slightest of gestures—a turn of a lion’s head, the arch of a boy’s torso—Brown’s drawings take the act of looking as their very subject.