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Cy Twombly, The Painter I’d Like To Be. (Or Was It Anselm Kiefer.)

June 25, 2008

One of the reasons I resonate with Cy Twombly’s work, is his ability to express himself in a way that most people would consider child-like: his ability “to go back to” or access in Zen terms, “Beginner’s mind.” (This term refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.)

His work is, of course, anything but simple: it is carefully crafted using a “visual language” that’s been honed to a fine point, along with his perceptual powers and intellect, but with the ability to access that “Beginner’s mind” quality. For me, his work also exemplifies one of the myriad definitions of art: it denotes the passage of time.

Born in 1928 in Lexington, Virginia, Twombly is known for his large scale, freely-scribbled, calligraphic style graffiti paintings; on solid fields of mostly gray, tan, or off-white colors.

The Italians. 1961

In 1952, Twombly received a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts that enabled him to travel to North Africa, Spain, Italy and France. Upon his return in 1953, Twombly served in the army as a cryptologist which left a distinct mark on his style.

From 1955 to 1959 he worked in New York, where he became a prominent figure among a group of artists including Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. In 1959, Twombly went to Italy and settled permanently in Rome. It was during this period that he began to, create his first abstract sculptures which, although varied in shape and material, were always coated with white paint. He began to work on a larger scale and distanced himself from his former expressionist imagery.

Leda and the Swan. 1962

Twombly is best known for blurring the line between drawing and painting. Many of his best-known paintings of the late 1960’s are reminiscent of a school blackboard someone has practiced cursive “e’s” on, or hundreds of years of bathroom graffiti on a wall (for the paintings of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s).

No. II. 1974

Cy Twombly from Natural History, Part I, Mushrooms, No. II 1974

Twombly had at this point done away with painting a representational subject matter, citing the line or smudge, each mark with its own history, as its own subject. Later, many of his paintings and works on paper move into “romantic symbolism”, as titles can be visually interpreted through shapes and forms and words. Twombly often quoted the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, as well as countless myths and allegories in his works. Examples of this are his famous work Apollo And The Artist, or a series of eight drawings consisting solely of the word “VIRGIL.”

Wilder Shores of Love. 1985

In 1968, the Milwaukee Art Center mounted his first retrospective. This was followed by major retrospectives at the Kunsthaus Zürich (1987) travelling to Madrid, London and Paris. the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1994) (traveling to Houston, Los Angeles, and Berlin) and the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich (2006). In 1995, the Cy Twombly Gallery opened at the De Menil, Houston, exhibiting works made by the artist since 1954. A travelling European retrospective will open at the Tate Modern, London in June 2008; and a separate survey of recent work will open the new building of The Art Institute of Chicago in 2009.

From, “Three Notes From Salalah.”

Cy Twombly

Twombly‘s painting combines elements of gestural abstraction, drawing, and writing in a very personal expression. At once epic and intimate, his work is infused with references to literature and aspects of the Mediterranean and Near-Eastern worlds.

James Kalm once again goes undercover to bring viewers unauthorized video of Cy Twombly’s latest exhibition of paintings, “Blooming: A Scattering of Blossoms and Other Things”. With this collection of recent paintings Twombly has encouraged his most lyrical expressions. With a poetic sense influenced by the elegant simplicity of haiku, these pieces have a reduced color spectrum and a basic repeated form manifest as bursts of blooming blossoms. Despite having lived in Europe for the last fifty years, Twombly still holds a major place in postwar American painting. These works bare witness to his continuing vigor as a major influence among young artists.

Check out the Tate Modern site for an “interview” with English musician and artist John Squire (erstwhile member of The Stone Roses, and 1996 founder of The Seahorses) as he talks about Cy Twombly’s upcoming show there.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Keith Fox permalink
    September 7, 2008 10:32 pm


    Might you know if Cy Twombly’s 1985 image titled Wilder Shores of Love is inspired by Lesley Blanch’s book Wilder Shores of Love?


    Keith Fox

  2. islandlass permalink*
    September 7, 2008 10:55 pm

    Wish I had a good answer, but I’m afraid I do not know.


  3. Levari permalink
    January 22, 2009 10:55 pm

    Yes, it is.

  4. March 22, 2011 9:13 pm

    Hi there… FYI… At the Cy Twombly expo at Tate Modern 19 June – 14 September 2008 two of his paintings featured Lesley’s Blanch’s title The Wilder Shores of Love. Both her name and book title featured in the blurb on the wall in room 9 and in the little (free) booklet handed out to expo-goers as follows: ‘The two Wilder Shores of Love paintings are named after a book by Lesley Blanch about the travels of four nineteenth century women in North Africa and the Middle East.’

    In the catalogue, in the section about Memory and the Mediterranean, Brooks Adams in Nicola del Roscio (ed.) Writing on Cy Twombly (2000) remarks: ‘Twombly’s frequent adoption of an explicitly female voice in his art, be it Sappho’s poetry or Lesley Blanch’s The Wilder Shores of Love, a book which treats the theme of Western women who succeeded in living, often en travestie, in the Middle East.’

    Twombly’s painting Wilder Shores of Love was also the lead image used to promote the expo and was on T-shirts, cards, posters etc.

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