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My line is childlike but not childish. It is very difficult to fake…To get that quality you need to project yourself into the child’s line. It has to be felt.

—— Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly (1928-2011) was an American painter, sculptor and photographer. Together with Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, Twombly is regarded as the most important representative of a generation of artists who distanced themselves from abstract expressionism.

Twombly’s paintings are predominantly large-scale, freely-scribbled, calligraphic and graffiti-like works on solid fields of mostly gray, tan, or off-white colors. His later paintings and works on paper shifted toward “romantic symbolism”, and their titles can be interpreted visually through shapes and forms and words. Twombly often quoted poets such as Stéphane Mallarmé, Rainer Maria Rilke and John Keats, as well as classical myths and allegories in his works. 

Twombly served in the U.S. army as a cryptologist, an activity that left a distinct mark on his artistic style.  From 1955 to 1959, he worked in New York, where he became a prominent figure among a group of artists including Robert Rauschenberg, with whom he was sharing a studio, and Jasper Johns. Using the painterly language of the early 1950s to invoke primitivism, reversing the normal evolution of the New York School, Twombly developed a technique of gestural drawing that was characterized by thin white lines on a dark canvas that appear to be scratched onto the surface. From 1960 onward, the artist spent the majority of his time between Rome and the medieval port city of Gaeta, where he steeped himself in thoughts of the Mediterranean Sea and ancient naval battles that had taken place there. During the 1960s, the artist produced a cycle of works based on myths including Leda and the Swan and The Birth of Venus. Erotic and corporeal symbols became more prominent, whilst a greater lyricism developed in his ‘Blackboard paintings’. Between 1967 and 1971, he produced a number of works on gray grounds, the ‘grey paintings’. Using an unusual technique, this series features terse, colorless scrawls, reminiscent of chalk on a blackboard, that form no actual words and are examples of asemic writing. 

In the mid-1970s, Twombly began to evoke landscape through colour (favouring brown, green and light blue), written inscriptions and collage elements. He continued to draw on literature and myth, deploying cryptic pictorial metaphors that situate individual experience within the grand narratives of Western tradition. In addition to his paintings, he produced sculptures assembled from found objects, clay, and plaster, painted white to suggest an affinity to Classicism. Twombly was a recipient of numerous awards. In 1984 he was awarded the “Internationaler Preis für bildende Kunst des Landes Baden-Württemberg” and in 1987 the “Rubenspreis der Stadt Siegen” [de]. Most notably, he was awarded the Praemium Imperiale in 1996.

Twombly was invited to exhibit his work at the Venice Biennale in 1964, in 1989 and in 2001 when he was awarded the Golden Lion at the 49th Venice Biennale. In 2010 he was made Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur by the French government. During fall 2010 Tacita Dean produced a film on Twombly, entitled Edwin Parker. In 2016, the Centre Georges Pompidou held a major exhibition on the Twombly, which included an assortment of 140 works ranging from sculptures and drawings to paintings and photographs. Today, the artist’s works can be found in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Courtauld Institute in London, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which in 1989 devoted an entire room to his 10-painting suite Fifty Days at Iliam (1978).


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Cy Twombly

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