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Artists Cy Twombly
Cy Twombly Photo

Cy Twombly

American Draftsman, Painter, and Sculptor

Movement: Abstract Expressionism

Born: April 25, 1928 - Lexington, Virginia

Died: July 5, 2011 - Rome, Italy

Cy Twombly Timeline

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."

Cy Twombly Signature

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 Neoclassicism, 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.

Biography

Cy Twombly Photo

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.

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Cy Twombly Biography Continues

Important Art by Cy Twombly

The below artworks are the most important by Cy Twombly - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Untitled (ca. 1953)
Artwork Images

Untitled (ca. 1953)

Artwork description & Analysis: While in the army, Twombly modified the Surrealist technique of automatic drawing by creating compositions in the dark - after lights out. These "blind" drawings resulted in the kind of elongated, distorted forms and curves that we see in this work. Biomorphic imagery is also apparent in the figurative scrawls giving way to more non-figurative scribbles and markings. His use of painting and drawing within this single work increases the level of sophistication and complexity by adding background tones and textures that are then overlaid by the graphite pencil lines. Although this is an untitled work (as many of Twombly's are), we can sense his appreciation of the "naive" aspects of children's art, for example, in the non-overlapping, lateral lining up of seemingly animate forms both human and non-human, as well as the expressive line work, especially in the central figure that leans back with both arms raised, perhaps in response to the "creature" in front of her.

Oil based house paint and graphite on paper - Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri

Leda and the Swan (1962)
Artwork Images

Leda and the Swan (1962)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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

Nine Discourses on Commodus, Part IX (1963)
Artwork Images

Nine Discourses on Commodus, Part IX (1963)

Artwork description & Analysis: For this nine-part series, Twombly took inspiration from Commodus, Emperor of the Roman Empire and son of Marcus Aurelius, who was later assassinated. The series was also painted following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Twombly's frenzied splatters and layers of color against the grey background reflect the volatility and civil war that stemmed from Commodus' oppressive rule that ultimately led to his assassination. Yet, these works also have a structured composition, and each is based around a grid form, perhaps summoning ideas of the imposed order of the Roman Empire. The series as a whole, and perhaps as a sort of narrative, begins with a conflict of two painted white masses that are still contained within the grid structure; it continues with increasing evidence of violence and its consequences, concluding with this panel, where the "victor" and the "vanquished" rise above a frail and single rectangle as if to say that all order has been abandoned. The "fallout" from such violent acts floating down in the long and empty vertical space below serves as a reminder of the past and a caution to the future; the famous historian Edward Gibbon saw the rule of Commodus as the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire. When exhibited at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1964, when the critical establishment was embracing Minimalism, the series did not receive positive reviews. It is now recognized as a major Twombly work.

Oil paint, wax crayon and lead pencil on canvas - Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain

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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.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Alberto GiacomettiAlberto Giacometti
Franz KlineFranz Kline
Jean DubuffetJean Dubuffet
Jackson PollockJackson Pollock
Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning

Personal Contacts

Jasper JohnsJasper Johns
Robert RauschenbergRobert Rauschenberg

Movements

DadaDada
SurrealismSurrealism
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Action PaintingAction Painting

Influences on Artist
Cy Twombly
Cy Twombly
Years Worked: 1947 - 2011
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Jean-Michel BasquiatJean-Michel Basquiat
Anselm KieferAnselm Kiefer
Francesco ClementeFrancesco Clemente
Julian SchnabelJulian Schnabel
Julie MehretuJulie Mehretu

Personal Contacts

Robert RauschenbergRobert Rauschenberg
Roland BarthesRoland Barthes

Movements

Graffiti ArtGraffiti Art
Neo-ExpressionismNeo-Expressionism

Useful Resources on Cy Twombly

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

Audio

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of 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 Recomended resource

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 Recomended resource

By Kirk Varnedoe

Cy Twombly: A Monograph

By Richard Leeman

More Interesting Books about Cy Twombly
An Artist of Selective Abandon Recomended resource

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
July 6, 2011

A Sensualist's Odd Ascetic Aesthetic

By Holland Cotter
The New York Times
February 4, 2005

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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