Oct 19, 2011

PROFILE | Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly, The Rose (IV), 2008

Cy Twombly is not my favorite artist.  I chose to write about him not because I like his work, but because I don’t understand his work.  I wanted to make an effort to understand what it was that he was relating through his artwork, and why it provoked such a strong reaction in me.  I was glad to find that others have a similar feeling about his art.

Born in Lexington, Virgina,1928, Cy Twombly was fortunate to attend art camps and schools from and early age.  During trips to New York in the early 1950’s, Cy Twombly was exposed to the works of Jackson Pollack, Rothko, and De Kooning.  Early exposure to these abstract artists apparently had a lasting effect on Cy Twombly and his methods of producing art throughout his life.  Most of his works are not what you could call “illustrative.”  Cy Twombly seems to say that it is the action of making the marks on the surface that is the most important aspect of his work, and that the canvases are just the evidence of that mark making.

Cy Twombly, Veil of Orpheus, 1968
After visiting the Cy Twombly Gallery as part of the Menil Collection in Houston shortly after it had opened, I was in awe that this man had been given a museum gallery of his own.  The works of art in the galleries displayed paintings and sculpture from the 1950’s and 1960’s and included more recent works (at that time, 1994).  

But who is this man?  He doesn’t really describe his artwork nor is he particularly interested in what people think of his art.  His artworks have titles that reference mythology, but the works do not contain any figurative images. 

Why is this man so well regarded in contemporary art?  What is it that he brings to the conversation with his abstractions?

These are the central questions that have bothered me since I first saw his works in the Cy Twombly gallery in Houston, Texas, soon after it had opened in 1995.

Cy Twombly is an artist who, although he uses themes of mythology (at least in his titles) his artworks are abstractions of these ideas and not literal or usually figurative.

There are times when Cy Twombly will use text as part of a painting as well as including what appear to be random or careless applications of paint or repetitive marks to the canvas and at other times, his artwork brings to mind graffiti or the scrawling marks of young children attacking the walls with pencils or crayons.

In reading an interview with Cy Twombly conducted in 2008 byNicholas Serota, Cy Twombly describes the act of painting (or drawing) as in important action, not the marks themselves.  Cy Twombly also discusses how he feels that paint can be inadequate for mark making, due to the property that it drys and the brush stops making a consistent mark.  For his works, I could see how this could be frustrating to have a line fade when working. 

Cy Twombly, untitled, 1954

Cy Twombly doesn’t just paint.  His sculpture utilizes found materials bound together in various forms and usually painted white.  Somehow I find it easier to relate to his sculpture, even though they are curious amalgamations of wood or occasionally palm fronds or flowers.  Maybe this come from the somewhat identifiable objects that are included in the sculptural works and the calmness that is invoked by having painted them white.  I find it interesting that Cy Twombly usually doesn’t title his sculptural works.

In reading the interviews with Cy Twombly, I get the impression that he was an introspective person, who employed the creation of his artwork as some sort of exercise of self exploration.  He speaks about creating the work during interviews, but doesn’t really explain what his works are about.

After doing more research on Cy Twombly, I find that I don’t dislike his work any more than I did at the start of this project, but I still don’t have answers to my questions. 

- Michael Whisenhunt

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