Cy Twombly is born in Lexington, Virginia on April 25, 1928. He begins his studies at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1947, and from 1949 until 1950 he continues his studies at Washington and Lee University in Lexington and in 1950 at the Art Students League in New York. A year later Twombly transfers to Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he studies under Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline. It is here that he meets Robert Rauschenberg, with whom he travels to South America, North Africa, Spain and Italy. A stipend leads to his first extended visit to Europe, the countries he visits including Italy and Spain. From 1953 to 1954 he teaches in Buena Vista, Virginia for a short time, and in 1957 he travels to Rome again, before finally relocating there in 1960. In the same year he has his first exhibit at the gallery of Leo Castelli. From 1960 onward he travels in the Mediterranean area, paints on Ischia and in North Africa, and in 1961 on Mykonos. He works in Munich for a short time in 1963, and works in New York and Florida in 1970.
In his pictures Twombly develops a sensitive weave of graffiti, drawing, words, numbers, traces of colors, smudges and fragmented objects that elude decisive interpretation. His works rather seem to aim at conveying abstract cultural signs and traces. Twombly’s point of departure is gestural painting which Twombly explores in the early 1950s. His works and reflections are inspired by his teacher Kline, Abstract Expressionism, and the works of Paul Klee, as he examines line, movement, and the embodiment of gesture in the line. In one of his earliest preserved pictures (Panorama, 1955) – a texture of seemingly nervous, white, lines applied with a jittery hand onto the black background – one can already perceive an interest in the juxtaposing of individual traces of scriptural movement and dense layers, the duality of the line as a sign and as the trail of a gestural motion. It is when he moves to Rome that the scriptural character of signs enters his work (Roma, 1957).
His approach intensifies in the conceptual exploration of traditional pictorial formulations in the 1960s and the »system for passing« in the 1970s. Now Twombly draws upon the wide historical spectrum of art models and explanation attempts, ranging from Leonardo to Malewitsch and Duchamp, the art historical connections and limitations of line, movement and form. After his travels, Twombly turns to mythological themes in large format pictures (Leda and the Swan, 1961; Birth of Venus, 1963), aiming to invoke old mythological worlds. Alongside the linear elements there is now a stronger presence of material and painted components: hand-kneaded paint substances, bits of intensive crumbled paint tones accentuating lines and attacking the white surface of the canvas. Ecstatic image compositions are invoked that make visible the physical creation process.
Twombly’s exploration of occidental culture and cultural memory, for which he finds drawn and written place holders, dates back to the early 1970s (Virgil, 1973): »When TW [Twombly] writes this one word and repeats: Virgil (…), then that in itself is a commentary on Virgil, for the name, written by hand, invokes not only the whole (as well as empty) idea of classical culture; it also reminds us of a time of old fashioned, quiet, painstaking, discrete and decadent studies: English colleges, Latin verses, school desks, lamps, fine penciled handwriting. That is the culture for TW: coziness, a memory, an irony, a pose, a gesture: dandy« (Roland Barthes, 1983).
The second half of the 1970s falls under the sign of reduction and increasing de-materialization of the painting ground: splotchy foundations, collaged paper, graphic traces, layers, color whirls step apart (Leda and the Swan, 2. Vers. 1976). And the »appearance of the white foundation with its nuanced subtle spatiality, and its opaque and transparent zones that transform body-like qualities and lift the borders (…)« also predestines Cy Twombly’s more recent works as the »glowing shine of color that rises from the depth of the picture like a vision freeing itself from matter.« (Karin Stempel, 1988).
The graphic elements successively dissolve in a powerful whirl of color and finally lead to Twombly’s strikingly Fauve-like flower pictures. From 1955 onward, sculpture made out of found objects, painted bronze and wood are created. In his late works Twombly’s interest in photography becomes evident, most of which are dedicated to flower motifs.
The first retrospective of Twombly’s works takes place in Bern in 1973, later followed by large international exhibitions in such institutions as the Whitney Museum, the Kunsthalle Zürich or the MoMA in New York. His work is presented at both the Documentas 6 and 7 as well as at the Biennale 1977 and 2001 (12-part painting cycleLepanto) in Venice. The Cy Twombly Gallery in Houston – a museum designed by Renzo Piano and Cy Twombly – opens in 1995.
Cy Twombly lives and works in Italy and the USA
Leeman, Richard: Cy Twombly – Malen, Zeichnen, Schreiben, Die große Monographie, München 2006
Schmidt, Katharina: Cy Twombly – Die Skulptur, Ostfildern-Ruit 2006
Cy Twombly in der Eremitage St. Petersburg, Fünfzig Jahre Arbeiten auf Papier: Ausst.-Kat. hg. v. J. Sylvester, St. Petersburg 2003/04
DelRoscio, Nicola: Writings on Cy Twombly, München 2002
Langenberg, Ruth: Cy Twombly – Eine Chronologie gestalteter Zeit, Hildesheim 1998
Cy Twombly, Paintings, Works on Paper, Sculpture, hg. v. Harald Szeemann, München 1987
Bastian, H.: Twombly, C.: Das Graphische Werk 1953 — 1984, München/New York 1984
Barthes, Roland: Cy Twombly, Berlin 1983