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.
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