It’s Day 36 and it was another wonderful day for painting. It’s been pretty hectic packing and I also have an improv show tonight so let’s get straight to celebrating today’s artist, Cy Twombly!
Edwin Parker “Cy” Twombly, Jr. (April 25, 1928 – July 5, 2011) was an American painter of large-scale, freely scribbled, calligraphic and graffiti-like works on solid fields of mostly gray, tan, or off-white colors. His paintings are in the permanent collections of the New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Musée du Louvre in Paris.
Many of his later paintings and works on paper shifted toward “romantic
symbolism”, and their titles can be interpreted visually through shapes and forms and words. Twombly often quoted the poet Stéphane Mallarmé as well as many classical myths and allegories in his works. Examples of this are his Apollo and The Artist and a series of eight drawings consisting solely of inscriptions of the word “VIRGIL”. In a 1994 retrospective, curator Kirk Varnedoe described Twombly’s work as “influential among artists, discomfiting to many critics and truculently difficult not just for a broad public, but for sophisticated initiates of postwar art as well.” After acquiring Twombly’s Three Studies from the Temeraire (1998–99), the Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales said, “sometimes people need a little bit of help in recognising a great work of art that might be a bit unfamiliar”. Twombly is said to have influenced younger artists such as Anselm Kiefer, Francesco Clemente, and Julian Schnabel.
Twombly was born in Lexington, Virginia on April 25, 1928. Twombly’s father, also nicknamed “Cy”, pitched for the Chicago White Sox. They were both nicknamed after the baseball great Cy Young who pitched for, among others, the Cardinals, Red Sox, Indians, and Braves.
At age 12, Twombly began to take private art lessons with the Spanish modern master Pierre Daura. He served as a cryptographer in the U.S. army. After graduating from Lexington High School in 1946, Twombly attended Darlington School in Rome, Georgia, and studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1948–49), and at Washington and Lee University(1949–50) in Lexington, Virginia. On a tuition scholarship from 1950 to 1951, he studied at the Art Students League of New York, where he met Robert Rauschenberg, who encouraged him to attend Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina. At Black Mountain in 1951 and 1952 he studied with Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell and Ben Shahn, and met John Cage.
Arranged by Motherwell, the Samuel M. Kootz Gallery in New York organized
Twombly’s first solo exhibition in 1951. At this time his work was influenced by Kline’s black-and-white gestural expressionism, as well as Paul Klee’s imagery. In 1952, Twombly received a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts which enabled him to travel to North Africa, Spain, Italy, and France. Between 1954 and 1956, he taught at the Southern Seminary and Junior College in Buena Vista, Virginia.
In 1957, Twombly moved to Rome, where he met the Italian artist Baroness Tatiana Franchetti – sister of his patron Baron Giorgio Franchetti. They were married at City Hall in New York in 1959 and then bought a palazzo on the Via di Monserrato in Rome. Later on, they preferred to dwell in Gaeta near Rome. In 2011, Twombly died in Rome after being hospitalized for several days; he had had cancer for many years. He has a son, Cyrus Alessandro Twombly, who is also a painter and lives in Rome.
Twombly was also survived by “Nicola Del Roscio, his longtime companion”.
After his return in 1953, Twombly served in the U.S. army as a cryptologist, an activity that left a distinct mark on his artistic style. From 1955 to 1959, he worked in New York, where he became a prominent figure among a group of artists including Robert Rauschenberg – with whom he had a relationship and was sharing a studio – and Jasper Johns. Exposure to the emerging New York School purged figurative aspects from his work, encouraging a simplified form of abstraction. He became fascinated with tribal art, using the painterly language of the early 1950s to invoke primitivism, reversing the normal evolution of the New York School. Twombly soon developed a technique of gestural drawing that was characterized by thin white lines on a dark canvas that appear to be scratched onto the surface. His early sculptures, assembled from discarded objects, similarly cast their gaze back to Europe and North Africa. He stopped making sculptures in 1959 and did not take up sculpturing again until 1976.
Twombly often inscribed on paintings the names of mythological figures during the 1960s. Twombly’s move to Gaeta in Southern
Italy in 1957 gave him closer contact with classical sources. From 1962 he produced a cycle of works based on myths including Leda and the Swan and The Birth of Venus; myths were frequent themes of Twombly’s 1960s work. Between 1960 and 1963 Twombly painted the rape of Leda by the god Zeus/Jupiter in the form of a Swan six times, once in 1960, twice in 1962 and three times in 1963.
Twombly’s 1964 exhibition of the nine-panel Discourses on Commodus (1963) at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York was panned by artist and writer Donald Judd who said “There are a few drips and splatters and an occasional pencil line,” he wrote in a review. “There isn’t anything to these paintings.”
Erotic and corporeal symbols became more prominent, whilst a greater lyricism developed in his ‘Blackboard paintings’. Between 1967 and 1971, he produced a number of works on gray grounds, the ‘grey paintings’. This series features terse, colorless scrawls, reminiscent of chalk on a blackboard, that form no actual words. Twombly made this work using an unusual technique: he sat on the shoulders of a friend, who shuttled back and forth along the length of the canvas, thus allowing the artist to create his fluid, continuous lines. In the summer and early autumn of 1969, Twombly made a series of fourteen paintings while staying at Bolsena, a lake to the north of Rome. In 1971, Nini Pirandello, the wife of Twombly’s Roman gallerist Plinio De Martiis, died suddenly. In tribute, Twombly painted the elegiac “Nini’s Paintings”.
In the mid-1970s, in paintings such as Untitled (1976), Twombly began to evoke landscape through colour (favouring brown, green and light blue), written inscriptions and collage elements. In 1978 he worked on the monumental historical ensemble Fifty Days at Iliam, a ten-part cycle inspired by Homer‘s Iliad; since then Twombly continued to draw on literature and myth, deploying cryptic pictorial metaphors that situate individual experience within the grand narratives of Western tradition, as in the Gaeta canvases and the monumental Four Seasonsconcluded in 1994.
In an essay in the catalogue to the 2011 Dulwich exhibition (see below), Katharina Schmidt summarizes the scope and technique of
- “Cy Twombly’s work can be understood as one vast engagement with cultural memory. His paintings, drawings and sculptures on mythological subjects have come to form a significant part of that memory. Usually drawing on the most familiar gods and heroes, he restricts himself to just a few, relatively well-known episodes, as narrated by poet-historians, given visible shape by artists and repeatedly reinterpreted in the literature and visual art of later centuries…..His special medium is writing. Starting out from purely graphic marks, he developed a kind of meta-script in which abbreviated signs, hatchings, loops, numbers and the simplest of pictographs spread throughout the picture plane in a process of incessant movement, repeatedly subverted by erasures. Eventually, this metamorphosed into script itself.”
However, in a 1994 article Kirk Varnedoe thought it necessary to defend Twombly’s seemingly random marks and splashes of paint against the criticism that “This is just scribbles – my kid could do it”.
- “One could say that any child could make a drawing like Twombly only in the sense that any fool with a hammer could fragment sculptures as Rodin did, or any house painter could spatter paint as well as Pollock. In none of these cases would it be true. In each case the art lies not so much in the finesse of the individual mark, but in the orchestration of a previously uncodified set of personal “rules” about where to act and where not, how far to go and when to stop, in such a way as the cumulative courtship of seeming chaos defines an original, hybrid kind of order, which in turn illuminates a complex sense of human experience not voiced or left marginal in previous art.”
Together with Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, Twombly is regarded as the most important representative of a generation of artists who distanced themselves from Abstract Expressionism.
Read more of his biography at wikipedia.
Read about the controversy when a woman “kissed” one of Twombly’s paintings and left behind red lips!
I decided to focus my piece on his flower paintings. I really liked them. It took me a bit to choose what colors to use. I didn’t want to use his exact choices. I wanted to make it a tiny bit my own. So here’s my final piece! Hope you enjoy. I had a great time painting it.
See you tomorrow Day 37! I just want to already be packed and painting in my new house!