Thursday, May 27, 2010

I've always liked the chalkboard-like paintings of Cy Twombly without really understanding what it was that drew me in.

In a book that does an interesting job of choosing writers to talk about artists, Philip Hensor (The Spectator and other British newspapers) discusses Twombly's work and offers his view that "obliteration is always intimately connected with writing in Twombly. . ." (p. 137, Writers on Artists, DK Publishing, 2001)

The writing is "on the teasing edge of legibility; but falling off that edge, rather than clinging on. . . They are not the writing of a teacher communicating with his class. . . to borrow a phrase from Barthes, the degree zero of his paintings, which wipe out meaning like a classroom duster, which obliterate writing s
o thoroughly while evoking it. . ."(p. 137)

I think I agree with Hensor that Twombly's paintings are more powerful when they do not bear too explicit a meaning. Here is the Hero and Leander triptych.
In the first, Leander drowns.

In the second and third, only the waves
after the drowning are depicted.

The dark area of the second must be the spot where he went under. Hensor feels the third is the most beautiful; it's kind of hard to get a feeling for the sense of open space and merging of sea and sky in the third one when the image is small on the screen here.

In any case, I think maybe Hensor is right that more "backstory" doesn't really add to this; the interest in his work draws from its inexplicable nature, don't you think?

The Untitled piece at the top is from 1967. This Hero and Leander group dates from 1984.

He is still working and painting at age 82, taking his work in new directions.

This last, The Rose (2008) is from a show last year in London at Gagosian Gallery. He works big, so this would cover a large space on the wall. Have you seen his work in person?


  1. Yes, I recently saw his "Untitled. A Painting in Two - Parts (Bassano en Teverina)" at the 'Monet and Abstraction' show in Madrid's Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. As the name suggests, the show highlights the abstract nature of some of Monet's later works and how many leading lights in the abstract expressionist movement drew on him for inspiration. The show's premise is that much of this work by Monet was totally forgotten until artists like Ellsworth Kelly made pilgrimages to Giverny (not then the tourist attraction it has become). Some of the abstract artists represented in the show in addition to Kelly are Rothko, Pollock (with some great juxtapositions with Monet's 'all-over' paint styles), Gerhard Richter, de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Joan Francis.

    Twombly only has one work (the one mentioned above), and but it is quite nice. For a virtual tour of the show, click here; and for the page featuring Twombly's painting here.

    The links should work, but in case they don't, they are:

    There is also a video (in Spanish):

  2. Oops, Suzanne, I meant to say Sean Francis, not Joan Francis.

  3. Thanks for posting the virtual tour - sometimes it seems that curators strain to bring together various artists in hopes that the groupings will make some sense, but in this case it really does work, doesn't it?

  4. It generally did work very well, there was definitely some straining by the curator as well.

    Case in point: next to several absolutely gorgeous snow and water paintings of Monet's (The Flood, The Thaw, Seascape at Le Havre and another one whose name I cannot recall), there were three all-white canvases by Robert Ryman. And if, like me, you are wondering what the connection might be, beside the obvious whiteness (or 'whitiness' as Steve Colbert of the Colbert Report might prefer), the helpful audio guide solemnly tells us that "Like Monet's winter scenes, Ryman's works remind us that painting is a visual experience". Oh. So there, now you know.

    At the risk of exposing my total dunderheadness, I correct my previous correction above, the painter of reference was neither Joan Francis nor Sean Francis, but Sam Francis (methinks).

    I hope you do not have a "three strikes and your out" policy for your blog commenters.

  5. No "three strikes" policy - don't worry. Love the visual experience insight on painting - thanks.