The Art Story.org - Your Guide to Modern Art

MovementsArtistsTimelinesIdeasBlog
Artists Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly

American Draftsman, Painter, and Sculptor

Movement: Abstract Expressionism

Born: April 25, 1928 - Lexington, Virginia

Died: July 5, 2011 - Rome, Italy

Quotes

"Graffiti is linear and it's done with a pencil, and it's like writing on walls. But in my paintings it's more lyrical."
Cy Twombly
"When I work, I work very fast, but preparing to work can take any length of time."
Cy Twombly
"Paint is something that I use with my hands and do all those tactile things. I really don't like oil because you can't get back into it, or you make a mess. It's not my favorite thing..pencil is more my medium than wet paint."
Cy Twombly
"I sit for two or three hours and then in 15 minutes I can do a painting, but that's part of it. You have to get ready and decide to jump up and do it; you build yourself up psychologically, and so painting has no time for brush. Brush is boring, you give it and all of a sudden it's dry, you have to go. Before you cut the thought, you know?"
Cy Twombly
"For myself the past is the source (for all art is vitally contemporary)"
Cy Twombly

"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."

Synopsis

Although at first glance the graffiti-like scribbles and scratches of Cy Twombly's work might resemble art made by a naughty child of Jackson Pollock, it is nothing of the kind: it is the work of an erudite, sophisticated, and emotional painter. Whereas the work of Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists emerged in 1940s New York, where their existential inner dramas were enacted against the acutely felt backdrop of World War II, Twombly's work was part of the next generation, emerging during the 1950s in Europe - a Europe that was trying to forget and rebuild. Twombly, based for the most part in Rome, thus focused on his immediate surroundings, responding to the history and beauty he found there, combining aspects of both traditional European sources and the new American painting.

Key Ideas

Much of Twombly's work is a direct reflection of, response to, and re-working of the ancient Greco-Roman past that surrounded him in his chosen home in Rome. Inspirations came from Greek and Roman mythology, history, and places, French Neo-classicism, and contemporary graffiti on ancient local walls. Twombly was able to balance the seemingly static history of the past with his own sensual and emotional responses to it.
In both the content and process of his art, Twombly was interested in the layering of time and history, of painting and drawing, and of various meanings and associations. His art situates itself in the context of the history of Western civilization as well as the process-oriented aspects of Abstract Expressionism.
Writing and language also served as major conceptual foundations for Twombly's mostly abstract art. In addition to the written word - in the form of poems, myths, and histories - he also focused on the process of writing, both by sketching unidentifiable doodles and splotches or words directly onto the canvas and by creating line-based compositions, often inspired by handwriting. Through these methods, he was often able to suggest subtle narratives that lay beneath the surfaces of his paintings.
Potential Partnership with The Art Story

Most Important Art

Leda and the Swan (1962)
Leda and the Swan (the title is written in the lower right corner), one of Twombly's most accomplished works, illustrates his career-long attraction to the stories, literature, and events of classical antiquity, an interest that expanded further after he moved to Rome in 1957. The title refers to the Roman myth in which Jupiter, transformed into a swan, seduces Leda, who would later give birth to Helen of Troy. Rather than depict the conventional and erotic imagery of a graceful nude languidly entangled with a swan, Twombly combines diverse media, with the violent and forceful swirls, scratches, and zig-zags flying out in all directions suggesting the presence of Jupiter and the fleshy pinks and ovoid forms suggesting Leda and the eggs that were produced from the union. Amidst these colliding, graffiti-like elements, Twombly included recognizable hearts, a phallus/swan neck, and a window-like rectangle. This "window" provides a stabilizing effect on this otherwise explosive painting, but also amplifies content in its witty paradox of being part of graffiti on a flat wall vs. a window that might offer passage through the flatness to the world of the painting (and the myth of the title) or in the opposite direction to the real world outside. The work as a whole reconciles themes of male/female, destructive/creative, and earthly/divine. As in much of his work, Twombly transformed an ancient myth by becoming Jupiter himself: ravaging the canvas and producing beauty. As Roberta Smith has commented, "the crux of his achievement was not so much to overturn [Abstract Expressionism]," ... but to connect Abstract Expressionism to other forms of culture."
Oil, pencil and crayon on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York
More Art Works


By submitting the above you agree to The Art Story privacy policy.

Biography

Childhood

Edwin Parker Twombly, Jr. was born in Lexington, Virginia in 1928. Like his father, who briefly pitched for the Chicago White Sox, Twombly was known as Cy, after Cy Young. His father later became a coach and athletic director at Washington and Lee University. Twombly's parents were from the Northeast, so he made frequent trips to Massachusetts and Maine, but the South, with its sense of history and autonomy, ultimately became an integral aspect of his identity. As a young boy, Twombly ordered and worked on art kits he ordered from the Sears Roebuck catalog. His parents encouraged his interest in art, and at twelve years old he started studying with the Spanish modern painter Pierre Daura.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Early Training

Cy Twombly Biography

Following high school, Twombly began formal art training at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (1947-49), where he became interested in the Dadaist and Surrealist work of artists such as Kurt Schwitters and Alberto Giacometti. At his parents' suggestion, Twombly then spent a year at Washington and Lee's newly created art program before moving to New York in 1950 to study at the Art Students League. Exposure to numerous New York gallery exhibitions of artists such as Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, and Robert Motherwell began to shape Twombly's own aesthetic away from the figurative toward abstraction. While at the League, he met Robert Rauschenberg, who became a close friend and artistic influence. At Rauschenberg's encouragement, Twombly studied at Black Mountain College in North Carolina (1951-52). In 1952, Twombly traveled to Italy and North Africa with Rauschenberg on a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. Upon returning, the two artists had a joint 1953 exhibition at Stable Gallery in New York, which resulted in such a hostile and negative response from the public that gallery director Eleanor Ward had to remove the visitor comments book.

Twombly's work at this time was largely in black and white, influenced both by Rauschenberg's paintings and the monochromatic work of Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Robert Motherwell. Twombly drew on ideas of the primitive, notions of ritual, and the psychoanalytic concept of the fetish, while taking inspiration from his European travels in these early works. From 1953 to 1954, Twombly was drafted into the army, where he served as a cryptographer at Camp Gordon near Augusta, Georgia, and at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. On weekend leaves, Twombly spent time in his hotel room in Augusta making scrawled, biomorphic drawings, which he said set "the direction everything would take from then on." While in the army, he also modified the Surrealist technique of automatic drawing by creating compositions in the dark after lights out. These "blind" drawings resulted in elongated, distorted forms and curves that became distinct stylistic motifs in his later work.

Mature Period

Cy Twombly Photo

From 1955 to 1959, he worked on and off in New York, where he emerged as a significant artist within a group of artists that included Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. In 1957, Twombly returned to Rome where he met and married the Italian artist Baroness Tatiana Franchetti - sister of his patron Baron Giorgio Franchetti. They were married at City Hall in New York in 1959 prior to purchasing a palazzo on the Via di Monserrato in Rome, but later they preferred the seaside town of Gaeta near Rome and the Mediterranean Sea. Here, the artist was inspired by a more tranquil, light tone in his work that also began to allude to Classical culture and literature. Greco-Roman themes infused much of his work throughout his career. After spending time in Lexington, Virginia and New York, and joining gallery owner Leo Castelli's roster of artists, Twombly settled permanently in Rome by 1960. His first Castelli exhibition was the same year in New York. Around this time an article in Vogue magazine with photographs by Horst P. Horst of Twombly's elegantly appointed apartment in Rome suggested that his grand lifestyle "somehow betrayed the cause." Distrust of the press understandably set in. In Rome, Twombly's early 1960s work took on greater scale and more vibrant color, while also drawing on themes of eroticism and violence. Although Twombly's work was well-received in Italy, a New York Castelli show of Twombly's Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963) received brutal reviews. From 1966 to 1972, Twombly created a number of canvases that resembled blackboards, with light-colored loops and scrawls flowing across grey backgrounds.

Late Years and Death

Cy Twombly Portrait

Twombly worked less frequently in the late 1970s and 1980s, but continued creating important canvases. In the mid-1970s, he also returned to sculpture, a medium in which he had not worked for almost twenty years. These sculptures, often focusing on Classical themes, were largely assembled from found objects and painted white. Italy continued to influence Twombly's work; he spent much time in the medieval port city of Gaeta, and many of his paintings from the 1980s reflected his interest in the sea. Critical reception of his work became more positive in the 1980s as well, partially due to a new interest in modern European art. Yet, when the Museum of Modern Art mounted a retrospective of his work in 1994 the show's curator Kirk Varnedoe felt compelled to write an essay titled Your Kid Could Not Do This, and Other Reflections on Cy Twombly.

Classical references persisted in his later work, particularly in the form of Bacchus, the god of wine. Twombly's paintings in the next decades expanded his previous use of color, applied with gestural brushstrokes that occasionally depicted more recognizable forms, such as flowers and landscapes. Twombly suffered from cancer for several years toward the end of his life, and died on the 5th of July in 2011 in Rome. He was survived by a son, Cyrus Alessandro Twombly, who is also a painter and resides in Rome, and his longtime companion, Nicola Del Roscio.

Legacy

In spite of his persistent disregard for fame and recognition, Cy Twombly, along with Robert Rauschenburg and Jasper Johns, is considered to be one of the greatest American painters after Abstract Expressionism. His distinctive aesthetic was both a continuation of Abstract Expressionist techniques in a post-war and European setting that internationalized contemporary art, and a new direction that used "low" art practices such as penciled words and scribbled crayon in the context of "high" art and art history. Twombly's artistic enterprise and its significance is rife with such contradictions: his work (along with that of Agnes Martin and Frank Stella) was part of one of the first exhibitions to explore the ideas of Minimalism and, on the other hand, the expressivity of his work that grew out of Abstract Expressionist roots influenced the more recent group of Neo-Expressionist painters.


Potential Partnership with The Art Story

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Cy Twombly
Interactive chart with Cy Twombly's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Artists

Alberto Giacometti
Franz Kline
Jean Dubuffet
Jackson Pollock
Willem de Kooning

Friends

Jasper Johns
Robert Rauschenberg

Movements

Dada
Surrealism
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism - Action Painting
Cy Twombly
Cy Twombly
Years Worked: 1947 - 2011

Artists

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Anselm Kiefer
Francesco Clemente
Julian Schnabel
Julie Mehretu

Friends

Robert Rauschenberg
Roland Barthes

Movements

Graffiti Art
Neo-Expressionism

Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

. [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org website. Available from:
[Accessed ]

Useful Resources on Cy Twombly

Books
Websites
Articles
Audio
Videos
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons

By Nicholas Serota, Richard Shiff, Nicholas Cullinan, and Cy Twombly

Writings On Cy Twombly

By Robert Motherwell, Francesco Clemente, Frank O'Hara, Dore Ashton, Gottfried Boehm, Brooks Adams, Roland Barthes, and Robert Pincus-Witten

paintings
Cy Twombly: A Retrospective

By Kirk Varnedoe

Cy Twombly: A Monograph

By Richard Leeman

An Artist of Selective Abandon

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
July 6, 2011

Cy was here; Cy's up

By Rosalind Krauss
Artforum
September 1994

Interview / Cy Twombly / Rome

By David Sylvester
Art in America
July 2000

A Sensualist's Odd Ascetic Aesthetic

By Holland Cotter
The New York Times
February 4, 2005

Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
ArtStory: Jackson Pollock
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism
Dada
Dada
Dada
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism that many thought had led to the War. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
ArtStory: Dada
Surrealism
Surrealism
Surrealism
Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
ArtStory: Surrealism
Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters was a German artist who was particularly influential in the development of Dada movement and his own offshoot of Dada that he called Merz. Schwitters was heavily involved in the international avant-garde, with artists like El Lissitzky, Hans Arp, and Tristan Tzara.
ArtStory: Kurt Schwitters
Alberto Giacometti
Alberto Giacometti
Alberto Giacometti
The Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti created semi-abstract sculptures that took up themes of violence, sex, and Surrealism. His famous later work is characterized by towering, elongated figures in bronze.
ArtStory: Alberto Giacometti
Franz Kline
Franz Kline
Franz Kline
Franz Kline was an American abstract painter and one of the pioneers of Abstract Expressionism. His signature black-and-white abstractions were inspired by Japanese calligraphy, and inspired a later generation of artists who created Minimalism.
ArtStory: Franz Kline
Robert Motherwell
Robert Motherwell
Robert Motherwell
Robert Motherwell was a first-generation Abstract Expressionist whose paintings use hulking shapes, large-scale strokes and calligraphy, and wide expanses of muted color. Eloquent and well-educated, he wrote extensively on theories of art.
ArtStory: Robert Motherwell
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
ArtStory: Willem de Kooning
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg, a key figure in early Pop art, admired the textural quality of Abstract Expressionism but scorned its emotional pathos. His famous "Combines" are part sculpture, part painting, and part installation.
ArtStory: Robert Rauschenberg
Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns is an American artist who rose to prominence in the late 1950s for his multi-media constructions, dubbed by critics as Neo-Dada. Johns' work, including his world-famous targets and American flags series, were important predecessors to Pop art.
ArtStory: Jasper Johns
Agnes Martin
Agnes Martin
Agnes Martin
Agnes Martin was a Canadian-born American painter, typically associated with Minimalism and at times Abstract Expressionism. Always something of a recluse, Martin's art was informed by Eastern Taoist philosophy and contained elements of spirituality. Her painting style employed simple lines, grid patterns and soft colors.
Agnes Martin
Frank Stella
Frank Stella
Frank Stella
Frank Stella is an American artist whose geometric paintings and shaped canvases underscore the idea of the painting as object. A major influence on Minimalism, his iconic works include nested black and white stripes and concentric, angular half-circles in bright colors.
ArtStory: Frank Stella
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the passionate expression of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
ArtStory: Minimalism
Neo-Expressionism
Neo-Expressionism
Neo-Expressionism
Neo-Expressionism began as a movement in German art in the early 1960s with the emergence of Georg Baselitz. It gained momentum, and drew in painters from Germany and the United States - often bringing artists back to painting as a serious and contemporary medium for artistic exploration.
ArtStory: Neo-Expressionism
Jean Dubuffet
Jean Dubuffet
Jean Dubuffet
Jean Dubuffet was a French painter and sculptor, and arguably one of the most famous French artists of the mid-to-late-twentieth century. Dubuffet's paintings employed the impasto technique, in which oil paints were thickened by materials such as sand, tar and straw. He coined the term "Art Brut," otherwise known as "raw art."
ArtStory: Jean Dubuffet
Abstract Expressionism - Action Painting
Abstract Expressionism - Action Painting
Abstract Expressionism - Action Painting
Action Painting was a term coined by art critic Harold Rosenberg to refer to the gestural mode of Abstract Expressionism, characterized by drips, flung paint, and rapid, spontaneous strokes. In this view the painting is a record of the artist's activities over time.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism - Action Painting
Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American painter who rose to fame in the 1980s, and was the first African-American artist to gain international acclaim. His emotionally-charged paintings gave rise to graffiti art and the Neo-Expressionist movement, and are still considered among the most avant-garde artworks of the late twentieth century.
ArtStory: Jean-Michel Basquiat
Anselm Kiefer
Anselm Kiefer
Anselm Kiefer
Anselm Kiefer is a German painter and sculptor, and was a pioneer of the late-twentieth-century movement Neo-Expressionism. Kiefer's mixed-media art typically incorporates straw, clay, lead and shellac, in addition to traditional paint and canvas. The themes of his work often focus on the atrocities of the Holocaust, as well as the occult, cosmos, and mythology.
ArtStory: Anselm Kiefer
Francesco Clemente
Francesco Clemente
Francesco Clemente
Francesco Clemente is an Italian painter commonly associated with the Neo-Expressionist movement, otherwise known as Italian Transavantguardia. Much of his work fuses sexuality with an emotional rawness and brutality. Clemente's paintings also contain visual elements of Surrealism.
ArtStory: Francesco Clemente
Julian Schnabel
Julian Schnabel
Julian Schnabel
Julian Schnabel is an American painter, interior decorator and filmmaker. In addition to being a major figure in the Neo-Expressionist movement, he is most well-known as the director of such films as Basquiat and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
ArtStory: Julian Schnabel
Julie Mehretu
Julie Mehretu
Julie Mehretu
Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and raised in Michigan, artist Julie Mehretu is known for her large-scale abstracted paintings. She covers her dynamic canvases in dense layers of paint, ink and pencil, and is often inspired by sources such as architectural drawings.
Julie Mehretu
Roland Barthes
Roland Barthes
Roland Barthes
Roland Barthes was a French philosopher and critic. His vast influence is credited with helping develop the philosophical and artistic schools of existentialism, structuralism and post-structuralism. With post-structuralism (or Deconstructionism) Barthes maintained that there existed no universal meaning or symbolism in art and literature
Roland Barthes
Graffiti Art
Graffiti Art
Graffiti Art
Graffiti Art arose out of graffiti tags in urban centers like New York in the 1960s and 70s. Part of a larger street art movement, graffiti art tends to incorporate text and visual scrawls, and is often political or subversive in content.
Graffiti Art