Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Cy Twombly

untitled 1969
In the early 70's, I became aware of an American artist named Cy Twombly. My friend, Joe Strickland gave me a book of American Modern Art and I was immediately drawn into the universe of line, expression, color, words and symbols that Twombly was using at the time to create a visual language unlike any other I had experienced. In the early 70's, Twombly's work evoked a sense of a physics lecture given by Jackson Pollack. The content of the erased words, the repeated gestures and shapes floating on what seemed to be plane that evoked a well used blackboard had the ability to convey meaning and emotion that short circuited conscious perception. 
lepanto panel 4 2001
To me, it was a unique combination of fragments of words, historical associations with color and gesture in a way that a kind of truly conceptual and esthetic graffitti. I was hooked.
A few years late, I was able to see a retrospective of his work at the Whitney Museum in NYC and experience in person the actual paintings. The layers of material, the visceral gesture of the paint strokes and the immediacy of the wet paint allowed to drip and run. All with a deliberate esthetic and attempt to imbue content and meaning. The meaning could be a fragment of poetry, a historical allusion making an emotional connection, like a psychic morse code transmission which is to me what the very best art could ever aspire to do. The Lepanto paintings from 2001, for example, reference the Renaissance Battle of Lepanto. He was a sculpture as well and the quality he brings to the physical objects he created as the same unconscious intelligence. Abstract? Not really, Surrealist? they evoke emotion and associations cunningly referencing unconscious associations. He uses blood, sex, dirt, shit in the work the same way he uses words. Never in an obvious way, but to evoke through asscociation. A coded message, morse code, to be interpreted and decoded by you.
Perhaps it had something to do with his background during the Second World War as an Army Cryptographer. His fascination with words, symbols, codes. 
camino real 2009
Twombly, born in 1928, began painting in the 50's. Though referenced by many movements in modern American art, he remained an outsider and never really sought the spotlight. Perhaps this is part of what made him seem such a volatile figure to critics throughout his career. They either got it or they didn't. He was an influence and a friend to many of the expressionists and pop expressionists like Rauschenberg. He was referred to as pop artist in the hay day of that movement, though he never produced any work that you could identify as "POP".
Twombly died in Rome on Tuesday and his shadow will grow longer across the landscape of modern art as it is reassessed. I am convinced he was one of the most influential creators in his very quiet way.
If you would like to learn more about him, investigatye this gallery and history of Twombly on line.

1 comment:

Rob K said...

Very interesting (and beautiful) works. Hadn't heard of him before.