Cy Twombly

In the Lives of the Artists series, from the NYT on July 6, Randy Kennedy’s obituary for Cy Twombly:

Cy Twombly, whose spare, childlike scribbles and poetic engagement with antiquity left him stubbornly out of step with the movements of postwar American art even as he became one of the era’s most important painters, died Tuesday in Rome. He was 83.

… 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, Twombly was a divisive artist almost from the start. 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.”

And then today, an assessment (“An Artist of Selective Abandon”) by Roberta Smith:

With the death on Tuesday in Rome of Cy Twombly at the age of 83, postwar American painting has lost a towering and inspirational talent. Although he tended to be overshadowed by two of his closest colleagues — Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns — Mr. Twombly played an equally significant role in opening pathways beyond the high-minded purity and frequent machismo of Abstract Expressionism, the dominant painting style in the late 1940s and ‘50s, when the three men entered the New York art world.

In different ways each artist countered the Olympian loftiness of the Abstract Expressionists by stressing the loquacious, cosmopolitan nature of art and its connectedness not only to other forms of culture but also to the volatile machinations of the human mind and to lived experience. Rauschenberg’s art functioned as a kind of sieve in which he caught and brilliantly composed the chaotic flood of existing objects or images that the world offered. Mr. Johns, always more cerebral and introspective, isolated individual motifs like targets and flags, mystifying their familiarity with finely calibrated brushwork and collage. His methodical approach to art making helped set the stage for Conceptual Art and influenced generations of artists.

Mr. Twombly worked with a combination of abandon and selectivity that split the difference between his two friends. His work was in many ways infinitely more basic, even primitive, in its emphasis on direct old-fashioned mark making, except that his feverish scribbles and calligraphic scrawls made that process seem new and electric. And part of that electricity came from his ecstatic response to history, literature and other art, and the raw emotionalism that his mark making conveyed.

One of Twombly’s “Bacchus” paintings:

There’s always a contrary opinion, in this case from Harry Mount in the Telegraph yesterday:

RIP Cy Twombly, an artist from the Emperor’s New Clothes School

Please forgive me for speaking ill of the dead, but plenty of people will talk fondly of Cy Twombly’s art, in the light of his death yesterday, in Rome, at the age of 83.

… his real golden age was in the 50s and 60s, when he was hailed, by some, as a revolutionary new genius on the art scene.

Looking back at his work now, it looks painfully see-through – a combination of childish scrawls, mixed in with a little bit of graffiti.

It goes on in this sour vein.

Who is Harry Mount?, you ask. From the Telegraph site:

Harry Mount is the author of Amo, Amas, Amat and All That: How to Become a Latin Lover and A Lust for Windowsills – a Guide to British Buildings from Portcullis to Pebbledash. A former leader writer for the Telegraph, he writes about politics, buildings and language for lots of British and American newspapers and magazines.

Ah, he writes about language, so I guess readers of this blog should trust his opinions on art.

Me, I find Twombly’s paintings playful, often funny, sometimes charming, and often boldly satisfying.

One Response to “Cy Twombly”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Arne Adolfsen on Facebook points me to a review of a current show at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in which Twombly’s “classical” paintings are paired, in conversation, with Poussin’s. Fascinating idea.

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