Cy Twombly is dead

Cy Twombly, “Leda and the Swan,” Rome 1962. Oil, pencil, and crayon on canvas, 6′ 3″ x 6′ 6 3/4″ Acquired by MoMA through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest and The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection (both by exchange). � 2011 Cy Twombly

 Cy Twombly, “Night Watch,” 1966, distemper and crayon on canvas, 190 x 200cm.

In the NYTimes Randy Kennedy reports that American painter Cy Twombly died in Rome today at 83. “The cause was not immediately known, although Mr. Twombly had suffered from cancer….In a career that slyly subverted Abstract Expressionism, toyed briefly with Minimalism, seemed barely to acknowledge Pop Art and anticipated some of the concerns of Conceptualism, Mr. Twombly was a divisive artist almost from the start. The curator Kirk Varnedoe, on the occasion of a 1994 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, wrote that his work was ‘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.’ The critic Robert Hughes called him ‘the Third Man, a shadowy figure, beside that vivid duumvirate of his friends Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.’�
Anneke E. Wijnbeek penned this Twombly biography for  Grove Art Online:
American painter, draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor Cy Twombley  studied from 1948 to 1951 at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA, at the Museum School in Boston, and at the Art Students League in New York. In 1951�2 he spent a semester at Black Mountain College, an important period for his involvement with Abstract Expressionism. Action painting, in particular, became his point of departure for the development of a highly personal �handwriting� that served as a vehicle for literary content. During this period he traveled to North Africa with Robert Rauschenberg.

In the mid-1950s Twombly began working also in chalk and pencil, and his paintings assumed a more graphic character. The stylistic changes in his paintings were subsequently registered more or less simultaneously in his prolific production of drawings and prints, which were often executed in series; often he drew contrasting, gradually dissolving lines on a beige or greyish-black ground, sometimes when it was still damp. Panorama (1955; priv. col., see Bastian, 1978, pl. 6), the only surviving dark canvas on a monumental scale, is completely covered with dynamic interweaving white lines truncated by the borders of the picture. The potential of gestural brushwork as a form of handwriting was not exploited by Twombly until he settled in Rome in 1957 and found inspiration in classical landscapes and literature. In Olympia (1957; priv. col., see Bastian, 1978, pl. 11), for instance, coloured lines form signs against a light-coloured background with pale yellow spots. In his paintings and drawings Twombly made direct reference to antiquity only in the inscriptions, which at the same time form part of the complex of lines and forms, and he remained committed to a deliberately awkward line verging on a scrawl. The few small sculptures that he produced between 1955 and 1959 are more disciplined, and their forms also suggest references to Classical culture. For example, in Untitled (painted resin, 1959; priv. col., see Zurich 1987 exh. cat., pl. 102) a pedestal of three superposed geometrical forms carries a row with interconnected staves suggesting a pan-pipe.
Cy Twombly, “Untitled,” 1970. Oil-based house paint and crayon on canvas, 13′ 3 3/8″ x 21′ 1/8″ (405 x 640.3 cm). Acquired for MoMA through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest and The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection (both by exchange).

 Cy Twombly, “Untitled,” 1968, oil chalk and tempera on cloth, 172.7 x 215.9 cm.

In the first half of the 1960s Twombly made particular use of subjective, erotic signs in his paintings, and he began to use more intense and denser colours. In Leda and the Swan, red and pink marks gradually emerge from the concentrated turbulence of the brushwork to assume a recognizable form. In the Blackboard Paintings initiated in 1966 Twombly returned to contrasting lines against a light or dark background. Rhythmic marks, spatially projected geometric shapes, words, letters and numbers are characteristically scattered across the painting surface, as in Untitled (1969; Basle, Kstmus.).

 Cy Twombly, “III Notes from Salalah, (Note II),” 2005-07, oil on wood panel, 96x 144.”

From 1976 Twombly again produced sculptures, lightly painted in white, suggestive of Classical forms. In the mid-1970s, in paintings such as Untitled (1976; priv. col., see Bastian, 1978, pl. 97), Twombly began to evoke landscape through colour (favouring brown, green and light blue), written inscriptions and collage elements, often distributing these features across the surface by means of right angles that emphasize the legibility of the image and its narrative character. In later works such as Gaeta-Sets (1986; see Bonn 1987 exh. cat., pp. 131�6, 138�44), however, Twombly treated landscape in a more purely abstract manner, freeing it from a literary context.

  Cy Twombly, “Camino Real (IV),” 2010, acrylic on plywood, 99 3/8 x 73 3/4 inches

Related Links:
Twombly’s comprehensive website
MoMA acquires Cy Twombly artworks (March 2011)
Cy Twombly Gallery at the Menil Collection: The works on view in the amazing Cy Twombly Gallery in Houston, TX,  comprise a  retrospective of the artist�s career that includes  large canvases, sculptural works, and suites of paintings and drawings. If you’ve ever wondered how they shipped his work to Houston, check out this fascinating stop motion video of the stretching and installation.
Twombly and Poussin: Arcadian Painters,” Dulwich Picture Gallery, London.June 29-September 25, 2011.
Edwin Parker Tacita Dean’s filmed portrait Edwin Parker, the painter Cy Twombly is espied in his everyday life. Edwin Parker is Twombly’s given name, Cy an inherited family nickname. The title of Dean’s film implies intimacy, an encounter with the man behind the myth.
Video of the 2006 Twombly exhibition at Gagosian. Gagosian’s web page for Twombly.
Audio discussion during MoMA’s 1994 Twombly retrospective. Curator Kirk Varnedoe invited Brice Marden, Francesco Clemente and Richard Serra  to talk about Twombly.
Studio visit with Cy Twombly

One Comment

  1. My heart stopped when I read the title of your post. Thank you for this eloquent obituary for a very elegant painter.

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