• -
  • irishtimes.com - Posted: July 6, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

    Cy Twombly has left the building

    Laurence Mackin

    Cy Twombly is no more. The American artist died yesterday at the age of 83.

    Twombly linked an awful lot of disparate elements and different worlds. He was American, from the Deep South, but seemed more at home in Europe. His paintings had grand themes of death and gods, but also sex and more prosaic, if no less vital concerns. His work was cutting edge, but drew on ancient sources for inspiration and definition.

    Twombly was seen as the successor to the likes of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, and indeed many of you may have seen his paintings during Imma’s recent show inspired by the life and work of Morton Feldman. A Tate Modern show in 2008 marked his 80th birthday; at the time, this paper’s art critic Aidan Dunne wrote: “You might find this fascinating or simply exasperating, and Twombly’s work attracts both responses.”

    Twombly’s greatest source of inspiration was Mediterranean Europe and its coastline, littered with the physical decaying evidence of gods and myths. His artistic responses to modern events drew on historical parallels, although he was never above being inventive or evolving his work. One of his last commissions was to paint the roof of the Louvre: he drenched the space in blue, with floating discs and the names of ancient sculptors, a sudden departure that he put down to getting “into something new”.

    The New York scene of the mid 20th century, with Jasper Johns, Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg and Pollock rattling around, is now approaching near mythic status, and Twombly was one of the last living links to this era. He left it, though, to head to Italy and explore the ancient artistic roots that so fascinated him.

    An exhibition of his work is currently in the Dulwich Gallery in London, and Twombly had intended to open it; Tacita Dean has made a film of Twombly that will be on show there. Here is one of his images, but it seems ridiculous to put it here. Like pretty much any abstract works, they have to be experienced in the flesh in their full intended scale, not on the dull, glassy glare of a screen, to be decently appreciated.

    • It is funny that you are covering Cy Twombly, He is an artist most people have not heard off. I said funny because I only know who he is from reading a book by the American kitch film director John Waters. John Waters (Hairspray) is a big collector of Cy’s work. Personally, to me this painting looks like something my daughter did in nursery school. Then again, in the world of art beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Looks like he let Rindy Sam loose all over it.

    • Flutura says:

      “…to me this painting looks like something my daughter did in nursery school.”

      @ 1 Jennifer – I hope you realize that is a compliment Jennifer. Children, you must know, first begin to express themselves, through abstract scribblings – raw impressionism, if you like – of the world as it is perceived by them; humans and all its creatures appear abstract to children and their earliest drawings reflect this; and their paintings become more and more “lifelike” as they journey towards “realism” — as they make “sense” of the world so to speak. My absolute favourite period in my own children’s artistic voyage was the very earliest period when they drew squiggles and blobs, “blobular” discs with lines protruding out of them – heads with arms and legs, which were supposed to represent themselves and other people, or animals and which is a completely different thing to experiencing the joy one gets from looking at some exquisite drawing of a railway bridge, for example, they may have done in their teenage years. It is a wonderful thing, in my opinion when a mature artist (Cy Twombly, for example) rediscovers the joy of this and attempts to recapture the mysteries of life…as though through the eyes of a child — as though going backwards from realism. Although some critics don’t think it very good, I particularly love Cy Twombly’s “Achilles mourning the death of Patroclus” (1962) – where he pares that imagined scene down to its very basic elements

      http://proustitute.tumblr.com/post/2996093753/cy-twombly-achilles-mourning-the-death-of

      I also love his “Green Cabbabes” (not a painting – one of his photographs)
      http://kvetchlandia.tumblr.com/post/7294263559/cy-twombly-green-cabbages-gaeta-1998

    • D de Brownbread says:

      Pretentious moi..? Some people..as green as…like mother like …Mad as a… I won’t complete the ***** don’t want to see it repeated by the parasITe plagiarists…

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      I wonder were the carvings of Newgrange (that I habitually refer to as ‘ancient printed circuitry’) abstract scrawlings or had they some coded message? Lacking a rosetta stone makes no never mind either way. Jung said the purpose of modern art is to connect the unconscioius with the external world. Presume that’s the aim of psychotherapy also. To achieve what the Greeks called ‘kenosis’ an emptying of the contents. Ubi pus ibi evacua as the Romans would later say. Tho’ I prefer an Achilles like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Leon_Benouville_The_Wrath_of_Achilles.jpg
      I’m still trying to look into Mr Twombly’s take and see what not he was trying to say but what was trying to be said through him as it were. I’m trying to evoke a reaction in myself to it. No. To discern what reaction if any it’s evoking in me. My definition of art is that it must evoke a reaction in someone, if only the artist.

    • halandor says:

      this is the first news i heard of twombly’s death.. a true legend.. mainstream coverage of today’s art world is preoccupied with only those who can court a media profile. he’ll be remembered eventually as one of the more significant artists of the 20thC

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      You know, the Chinese have a good take on this. Although a baby and a very old person may both be regarded as ‘simple’, in the sense that their behaviours and reactions might be seen as similar, the key difference is that while the baby has a childlike view of the world, it has no experience of it (at least none that the honeypots of Lethe have not obnullified), whereas the old person has all the experience qua wisdom of their long years and yet has once more recaptured the essence of childhood; the chink has narrowed again and the wonder can return.

    • Laurence Mackin says:

      Jennifer – I think his profile definitely seems to be higher on this side of the water.

      Flutura – love the cabbages photograph! Reminds me of the piece pictured here:
      http://gawker.com/5818244/artist-cy-twombly-is-dead-at-83

      John O’Driscoll – @2 very good! @5 a fair point – do you think Twombly doesn’t provoke reactions? Again, they are definitely works that need to be seen together in a good room and have a bit of time spent with them.
      Also your idea of “what was trying to be said through him” – a fairly spectacular notion that happens so rarely in art. But when it does …. Kaboom!

      D de Brownbread @4 – care to be specific and clear with your accusations of plagiary?

      I agree with Halandor @6 and his stature will grow in art history. There are no easy answers with Twombly’s work.

    • Dde Breadbin says:

      Oh dear Laurence haven’t you been paying attention for the last while….? Did you ever ..no I don’t suppose you did…!

    • Laurence, you are right Europeans seem to know more about Cy, then Americans. As I said, If not for the Director John Waters, I would still not know who he is. I have written before about my love of Frida Kahlo, but most modern art alludes me. Of course I know the works of Jackson Pollock, Andy Wahol, etc, but Cy Twombly was never even a blip on the radar. Art is to me is interesting for a number of reasons: 1. the work itself 2. the artist 3. the reaction of the public to 1 and 2 4. the amount of money the public spends on the work. Sometimes works I would not give you 2 euros for, sells in for hundreds of thousand euro. Boggles the mind.

      John Waters included pictures of Cy’s art he owns in his book, one piece in particular is scribbles in pencil on paper. If I remember correctly, I think he said he paid $20, 000 for it from a gallery in California (can’t remember if it was in LA or San Francisco). As I said before, one man’s art is another’s kitch.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      I’m thinking Ferdia and Cu Chulainn. Arthur and Launcelot. Band of Brothers. The homosexual Germanic Wolfpack warriors. But mostly I’m seeing Achilles with fire in his head unwilling to burn his best friend’s dead body. Forcing Patrocholus to return as a ghost to tell him he can’t enter the next Life until he does. Can understand that. Or maybe it’s this bloody tooth abcess I’ve been battling all day meself. Can’t make the dentist too busy at work so eating Solpadeine’s like sweets. Arrrgh.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      If not careful I could end up like these two eegits here: http://dwighttowers.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/criticsfeb09.jpg

    • Flutura says:

      @11 John O’D — Maybe this will help
      http://aaalab.stanford.edu/child_development/dev_drawing.html

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Interesting. Didn’t realise that tadpole was common to most children’s artistic development. What do you make of the four year old Chinese kid who drew the painting of Lung Mo on the left of this old photo here: http://www.lungmo-temple.com/FirstE.htm
      First time ever went out to Hong Kong (1994) a friend of mine in Dublin owns a few Chinese restaurants introduced me to his sister was then an Inspector in the (then) Royal Hong Kong Police. She comes from Peng Chau island just off HK and while there I visited her local temple, Mother of Dragons (Lung Mo, Lung or Leung is Chinese for Dragon, Mo obviously for Mum) and she showed me that painting and told me a little kid, four years old, had one day drawn it spontaenously. Sorry I’ve not been able to get a better picture. But that’s the sort of thing I mean when I say ”what was trying to be said through him”.
      Mozart, who by all accounts was a right little bollix, used say that it wasn’t him writing and playing the music it was God writing and playing the music THROUGH him.
      Like I say, we’re all little local client terminals of the WAN big client server. Yep Laurence I do think Twombley provokes a reaction. Ergo, he’s an artist. How great I think he is remains to be seen. Reckon I need to see it in the flesh can’t get a strong enough read across the infinity of fibreoptic I’m seein him thru’ currently.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      What’d really help Flutura would be a sterilised vice-grips and a bottle of Jack unfortunately I can’t get either here at work. Failing a dentist I mean.

    • Flutura says:

      @15 J O’D — @ J O’D – might I suggest that while the pain (and there’s nothing worse than toothache – even the inexpressibly unbearable pangs of labour/childbirth) is at its worst (when the effects of the last Solpadine has well worn off) you take a paintbrush, a can of red paint (red, for obvious reasons) and try to “write” the pain on a blank wall (canvas). Then, if your colleagues have not alerted the men in white coats to this atypical expressiveness on your part, you could well be on your way to understanding Cy Twombly – which is not to say that Cy Twombly was all about aggression – far, far from it……….but they do say suffering develops the powers of the soul and if it ain’t got soul, I ain’t buyin’ it…

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Pain is something I can never remember Flutura. Like everyone else long since developed the capacity to block that off. Can even do it while actually feeling it. Just isolate and ignore it. Then forget it. But thanks for your kind suggestion. If it hasn’t got soul it’s dead you’re right. Buddha-nature’s different tho’. Everything has that.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Something or other about this guy’s got me hooked alright. Keep looking up his stuff. Mate of mine since childhood’s an artist sculptor potter all that. Some of his stuff has an effect on me. He lived in new York for years block or two away from the Twin Towers. He wasn’t in town when they came down but I reckon still the trauma of it influences some of his paintings. He was intrigued to hear me mention it one night we were round his gaff sitting in his studio having some beers. Trauma now, unlike pain, is something that gets stuck in you alright. Reckon I’ll ask him if I can put up one or two on Picasso or something link it to here see what ye think. Hope I get a more positive reaction than I got the last time I asked someone close to me if I could show their lovely stuff on here (but they were only shoes and she’s sensitive he’s from Cavan like me where sensitive is usually used only in context of how skilful you are when working with the grab of a JCB).

    • Flutura says:

      I often wonder how Twombly would have responded to an Inkblot (Rorschach) Test…

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Do you know how YOU would, Flutura?

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      It’d be handier Laurence if you could insert some standard image alongside the paintings you put up just so’s to give us an indication of their scale. I don’t know a matchbox or a measurement whatever. Watching the presentations from Dulwich the size of some of Twombley’s paintings put them in a different light for me and literally too. Size isn’t everything so it is said, allegedly, but in the case of paintings at least I know that it has a profound effect. I wonder why. Normally, I’d have thought, if something’s ”good” or ”bad” size only increases the objective space it takes up with its goodness and/or its badness. But in Twombley’s case it lifts a painting from a doodled scribble to something else entirely. Something that took WORK. Time. Effort. Skill. Tacit knowledge of a subject, inferred rather than implied maybe? The same sort of knowledge that means a fireman say can get out of a building safely much closer to its actual collapse than a non-fireman (scrambling desperately for a simile) or a gardner can envisage what they’re going to make of a piece of wasteland much more effectively than someone who knows little about gardening.
      Reckon the exhibition’s linking Poussin and Twombley might be tenuous enough. Several centuries between them, they both painted pictures with similar names (the main comparitive link in this I think) and moreover lived in the same places and Twombley said if he wasn’t Twombley he’d like to be Poussin. Well. Maybe that’s enough to justify linking two entirely dissimilar artists otherwise (imo). Perhaps that Poussin painted abstract scenes in concrete (i.e. realistic) ways and Twombley painted concrete (i.e. real) scenes in abstract ways? I mean in the sense that the themes of love and drowning say or love and rage or love and murder or the four seasons are concrete in that we’ve all experienced some or all of the above (and perhaps thought they were simply contrasting shades of the same thing? If the absence of love is indifference, not hate, is the absence of good not bad but neutrality? Sorry digression) whereas we’ve none of us actually met Hero and Leander nor Achilles and Patrocholus nor dwelled in Roman Times (tho we’ve all seen Roman roads whether we knew it or not). Suppose Twombley relies far more on the use of light colour and texture and Poussin uses light and colour (his backgrounds seem very vague or hastily drawn compared to his subjects and foregrounds) and form. I dunno. Never even did art in school. Did woodwork. The lads back then thought art was for girls.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Which I suppose is why all my mates are brave. As a criteria it seems to be fairly common regardless of gender. I wouldn’t have had the guts to go to art class in my school. Friends of mine weren’t so wimpish.

    • Flutura says:

      @21 JO’D — It’s mostly butterflies to me, I’m afraid. Got a phobia as it happens. Most people see the butterfly as one of the most exquisite, fragile creatures in existence but I see something that is terrifying, especially the Red Admiral, or the Tortoiseshell, and especially when one flies into a room that I’m in – crazyman dance yes siree
      You have to wait for the end of this clip for the really scary bit when it (a Red Admiral) opens its wings (it doesn’t really bother me at all looking at them on video)
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwuUVvyyNjU

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      I found that really relaxing to watch in my lunchtime Fllutura thanks. And listening to the clockin hen off-cam was too. Sort of grounded the stupid worries I have about this thing or that thing at work and put them in context. To be honest, my only phobia (and it isn’t even really) is a fear of heights or rather a compulsion to launch myself off. Had to get the balcony on my last apartment glassed in for that reason. Did a parachute jump for the rape crisis centre years ago when young to try and expunge it by facing it. Shaggin made it worse. So don’t know what to say. Possibly you were scared as a wee baby sitting outside one day when a butterfly flew into your face. Wish I could offer some good advice but the only thing that came into my head when I read you @ 24 there was a line from Lao-Tzu goes ”What does the summer insect know of the ice? What does a well-frog know of the ocean?” Dunno. Maybe you can convince yourself that this small creature going about its business totally unconcerned by you and the myriad complexities of your life and knowledge qua knowledge is a symbol, a pointer, towards something else you need to face that’s really at the back of your fear. I’m sorry I can’t say anything helpful. Thanks for the lovely clip. rgds

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      heh. Went down the ack of my factory where I work just there, for a lunchtime smoke. Was just sitting in the sun admiring all the leaves on the bushes and stuff. Another lad sat beside me. We said nothin to each other. Then I’d an idea so I took out my Nokia E72 phone from my pocket, the one I’m now writing this on, looked up this blog an ure link there Flutura and clicked thru to the Youtube clip of the butterfly. Started it playing in full screen then, when it was, held up the phone so’s it was ”sitting” on a branch of the shrub in front of me and just looked. In a few seconds it seemed as if the phone disappeared and the butterfly in Norfolk yesterday or whenever was sitting on a bush in Kildare today! The lad smokin beside me said ”That’s class!” and we both laughed so I came in and started writing this to you. Thanks for cheering me up Flutura!

    • Flutura says:

      @ JO’D – You are so sweet (sometimes..!) but the thing I draw from my fear of the most fragile, beautiful thing in nature is something like this: that most people when they consider the natural world are in awe of the awesome power of God (I no longer have any interest in Science) and that is a fearsome thing but I like to consider the infinite vulnerability (mercy) of God, which is equally powerful…formidable…and the Red Admiral butterfly somehow conveys this to me…but only in the aftermath of an “apparition” by a Red Admiral…and later when I think about it……anyway I wouldn’t have thought you needed cheering up! It’s a beautiful thing, though – two guys…silent…takin’ a break……..lookin’ at a butterfly……lawks a mercy…I could write a poem..
      (Flutura is Albanian for butterfly btw..!)

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Ch’uang Tzu once fell asleep and dreamt he was a butterfly and when he awoke he said that he couldn’t tell whether he had been a man dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was a man. Unsettling at best one migth think.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Here we go: http://www.the-philosopher.co.uk/butter.htm
      Returning Flutura’s compliment as it were.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      I wonder in the moment, the precise moment, before death are our minds in a hypnagogic (sp?) state? That sense of conflicting realities that obtains between ‘dreaming’ and ‘waking’? In which – at least to my own recollection – the noise of something in a dream say a pan rattling can actually be heard outside our heads? Well not actually but can seem to be heard. As the man said, you only know you are dreaming when you awaken. Likewise, when you die, does this world thereafter reveal itself to be but another dream? In fact, I’d ask: does death happen to oneself at all? I mean, I know it happens to other people but does it ever really happen to oneself? Are we conscious of being dead? And if not, does it matter a damn and if so, is there anything to be afraid of really? I’m sure I could drive meself mad with this but frankly I’m more concerned for others being driven mad so I’ll stop now.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      One more thing. When I used to work down in Taiwan, my favourite place to go in the odd off hourwas the National Museum in Taipei. It is truly a monument to the greatness of Eastern Art. There’s a little boat there. She has 8 buddhas on board each with an individual facial expression, and the 300 character text of the ”Dream of the Red Cliffs” carved on the hull. The artisti, Chen Tsu Ch’ang, carved her in the 18th century from a single olive stone (used think it was a peach pip but no it’s an olive). Look:
      http://www.npm.gov.tw/en/collection/selections_02.htm?docno=904&catno=12&pageno=2
      And if you like cabbages in art, knock yerself out here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jade_cabbage_closeup.jpg

      And here’s a bitta bacon to go with it. Not Francis. Heh. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MeatStone_Taiwan.JPG

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      My point, of course, in case it wasn’t clear, is that size doesn’t always matter.


Search Pursued by a Bear