Cy Twombly (1928-2011)
Cy Twombly (1928-2011)


Cy Twombly (1928-2011)
signed with the artist's initials and dated 'C T - 70' (upper left); signed, dated and inscribed 'Cy Twombly Roma, July 1970' (on the reverse)
oil, graphite and wax crayon on paper
27 ½ x 34 ½in. (70 x 87.5cm.)
Executed in 1970
Studio Bonato, Milan.
Private Collection, Milan (acquired from the above in 1972).
Thence by descent to the present owners.
This work will be included in the Addendum to the Catalogue Raisonné of Cy Twombly Drawings, edited by Nicola Del Roscio.


‘Everything happens in that infnitesimal moment in which the wax of his crayon approaches the grain of the paper. The soft wax adheres to the fine asperities of the graphic field and the trace of this leavened fight of bees is what typifies the mark that Twombly leaves... since [a] sense of meaning has been exhausted, and since the paper itself has become what we can justly call the object of desire, drawing can reappear once again, absolved of all technical, expressive or aesthetic function.’
– Roland Barthes

‘Each line is now the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate – it is the sensation of its own realisation.’
– Cy Twombly

As the eye darts across Cy Twombly’s Untitled, 1970, jolts of graphite, ribbons of waxen white and a blue as bright as the sea recede and mingle in an elaborate ballet. An azure fog stretches across the background, overlain with a swarm of erasures and hatchings in graphite and navy. Staccato charcoal marks the mist in potent, thin slashes. Rollicking waves crest as the agitated marks gather and jostle at the bottom of the drawing, engulfing the paper’s edge, only to fade into the unknown. Text spills across the pictorial plane, yet like a cipher, it is completely impenetrable, save for an occasional flash and swoop of a letter. The collapse of word and image was a central provocation for Twombly, whose luscious compositions melded abstraction’s painterly gestures with linguistic concerns to forge an ongoing exploration of language’s graphic potential.
Inscribed ‘Rome’ on the reverse, Untitled was created in the city which had been Twombly’s home since 1957. In New York, he had been previously submersed in an art world that revered Abstract Expressionism, and Twombly was inspired by the idea of an intuitive art, explaining: ‘It’s instinctive in a certain kind of painting, not as if you were painting an object or special things, but it’s like coming through the nervous system. It’s like a nervous system. It’s not described, it’s happening’ (C. Twombly in an interview with D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, London, 2001, p. 179). Encouraged by Robert Rauschenberg, Twombly attended courses at Black Mountain College, where he probed the relationship between text and image by exploiting the potential of handwriting as a painterly form. Only on his move to Rome, however, did Twombly’s visual language truly come together, filtering the history, land, and myths of the Mediterranean within a sensuous and exuberant landscape of line. The following decade was one of abundant energy and prolific output, pinpointing the beginning of a ‘transgressive Twombly’, incorporating both his eroticized imagery as well as the savagery of his mark making, which continued throughout his career (R. Krauss, The Optical Unconscious, Cambridge, MA, 1993, p. 266). Despite making his home Europe, Twombly’s practice remained closely aligned with American art discourses, and his fascination with language as both text and a process of communication anticipated many of the emerging Minimalist and Conceptualist art debates
of the period.
By 1970, this analytical reasoning and scientifc inquiry had become central preoccupations of Twombly’s, coinciding with his visualisations of the terrestrial and symbolic Mediterranean. Signalling a change from the earlier poetic works, systematic imaginings such as the present work were inspired in part by the artist’s fascination with Leonardo da Vinci’s Nature Studies. In their yellowed pages, Twombly saw the intermingling of science and art, Leonardo annotating his formulae with sketches of geometric forms, rays and tetrahedra. Da Vinci’s notebooks became a guide for ‘rational inquiry’ and an inspiration for Twombly’s determined endeavours to incorporate rational discourse within his ecstatic compositions (S. Delehanty, ‘The Alchemy of the Mind and Hand’, 1975, reprinted in N. del Roscio, Writings on Cy Twombly, Munich, 2002, p. 68). Turning away from the gestural, Twombly embraced unadorned geometries, indecipherable notations, and muted grounds that seem to echo the palettes used by Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. This sense of the schematic is evident in Untitled, in which traces of scientific formulas and mathematical computations are scribbled, erased and begun again, a crescendo and an ascent that is continuously re-enacted throughout the drawing.
Within these explorations, poetic elements persisted, embodied in the marine-blue wave of Untitled, which contains all forms of frantic diagrammatic markings. The sea was an enduring fascination for Twombly, and contemporaneous to the present work, he was working on a series of abstracted seascapes created in Anacapri. Against the warm, cream of paper, Twombly pinned postcards, strips of tape, and tracing paper onto which he scrawled a tumult of oceanic blues and greys. Thin ruled lines demarcate the absolute boundary of the horizon, an endless, infinite point that has all but vanished in Untitled. There is a sense in the present work of Twombly’s complete submission to line, which was of paramount importance to the artist: ‘Each line is now the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate – it is the sensation of its own realisation’ (C. Twombly, interviewed by D. Sylvester, 2000, reprinted in C. Daigle, ‘Lingering at The Threshold Between Word and Image’, Tate Etc., vol. 13, May 1, 2008).
Untitled is a stunning drawing that synthesizes Twombly’s analytical investigations with his Baroque intensity to yield a uniquely ictorial language. The poet Octavio Paz, with whom Twombly often collaborated, saw these compositions as ‘courageous’ explaining that ‘in Cy’s case, however, he uses words Giotto di Bondone, Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ), circa 1305. Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy. with meaning, as well as fragments of poems. A collaboration of image and words, not just form but also their meaning. It is rather new in modern painting…you cannot represent allegories anymore, you cannot paint meanings of the sixteenth or seventeenth or even the nineteenth century, but you can do what he’s doing: an attempt to interrelate the words—the poetic word and the visual
image’ (O. Paz, interviewed by J. Harvey for The Cy Twombly Gallery at the Menil Collection, reprinted in RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, no. 2, Autumn, 1995, pp. 181-182). Twombly’s feverish scrawls were an attempt to reconcile the orderly and mythological to provide a new language for understanding the visible world. In Untitled, these illegible helices, oceanic punctuations and variegated greys are tempered by a lexicon of rational schematics, the very structures of life itself. The scattering of discrete marks produce a capacious panorama that embraces the ambiguous and emphatic, an ebb of voids and accreted physicalities.
Here, Twombly fnds the rational within the frenzied beauty of the world.

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