Drawing a modern narrative of tragedy to Manchester's Whitworth

Wreckage. Screaming people. Terrifying seas. Clamouring over each other. Flailing arms. Tortured cries. A highly emotive exhibition of drawings from Cecily Brown of destroyed ships, packed raft boats and their passengers. A revelation of pain and panic in modern narrative but taken from Old History paintings by Eugene Delacroix including The Shipwreck of Don Juan (1840) and The Raft of The Medusa (1818-19).

The Raft of The Medusa
It's an interrogation in painterly terms. Brown scrutinises the figures with a set of never-ending studies. Using the simplest set of watercolours to create gestural drawings seemingly done so in such a rapid and fraught way, they come back screaming of energy and forcefulness. Yet dark and grisly. And the red. The red hits back at me. Flashes in the boat. Swathes of it across the sky and in the sea. Imagine being possessed with a feverishness to draw and draw, not being to stop as though you have to get as many scenes of the same living nightmare out of your head so you can feel free and breathe easy again. As I inhale and exhale I feel the weight of the narrative push against my skull as the message reinforces itself. Over and over again.

They display like a visual diary so continuously hit you in the face with their inexhaustible movement and dire intensity. Halfway through and you think you've seen enough but more scenes beckon you forward like images in a church text harking back to Old Testament stories. But these are modern day interpretations of life, death and tragedy. Calling your attention to boat catastrophes of the past but more importantly to the present with regards to immigrants risking their lives to cross over from Turkey to Greece and Italy.  Brown's drawings are larger than life. They are life. Both significant and poignant in their storytelling.

On until 15th April

The Whitworth
Oxford Road
Manchester, M15 6ER



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