Nicola Del Roscio, Cy Twombly: Drawings, Cat. Rais., Vol. 8, 1990-2011, Munich 2017, p. 60, no. 59, illustrated in colour
Departing from the graphic linearity of the 1960s and 1970s, Twombly turned towards the fully expressive and gestural use of paint in the 1980s and 1990s, becoming more painterly in his later years. By 2008, when he undertook a major exhibition at Tate Modern, Twombly revealed yet another new direction in his oeuvre: the Rose paintings. Indeed, Twombly had dwelt before on the symbolism of flowers in a 1985 polyptich that is now held in the Menil Collection, Analysis of the Rose as Sentimental Despair. Describing Twombly’s studio during the fruition of the Tate exhibition Cycles and Seasons, Nicholas Cullinan describes the artist’s studio: “Tacked up on Twombly’s studio wall is a small arrangement of images of roses. Loosely painted late Renoir flower paintings jostle with eighteenth-century still lifes ripe with abundance; a postcard of a simple photograph of a rose in full bloom sits opposite the late Pierre Bonnard painting, Nature morte au melon 1941, of a yellow melon and a bowl of peaches rendered in swirling, interlocking greens and reds” (Nicolas Cullinan, ‘Between Roses and Shadows’ in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, 2008, p. 229). Inscribed ‘Rosa’, the present work ought to be considered a pivotal case study for this mature period.
The tension between the graphic qualities of linear inscription and the sensual materiality of paint is central to the impact of the present work. This runs parallel to a tension between intellectual cultural history and intuitive emotional expression enacted in Twombly’s paintings. Classical mythology, literature and historical works of art are appropriated and translated into a visual response that is tactile, visceral and aesthetic. For what is remarkable about Twombly, and is perfectly embodied in the present work, is the way in which he empowered his brushstrokes with the capacity to both delineate and to represent the flux of visual expression. As Harald Szeeman concludes, “no other artist has such a gift for open endedness… words become lines expressive of feeling, lines become tones, tones become tensions, white becomes resolution. All this happens with the flowing naturalness of handwriting… this work seems to us both primeval and innovative, like memory itself and its energies” (Harald Szeeman, Cy Twombly, Munich 1987, p. 12).
As the artist remarks, “Generally speaking my art has evolved out of the interest in symbols abstracted, but nevertheless humanistic; formal as most arts are in their archaic and classic stages, and a deeply aesthetic sense of eroded or ancient surfaces of time” (Cy Twombly cited in: Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Cy Twombly, 1989, p. 199). The intriguing outcome is a work that freely oscillates between the faculties of painting and language to create a markedly lyrical and unique form of abstraction. No artist of the Twentieth Century has dramatised so expressively or incisively the range and force of the drawn line and painted mark as Cy Twombly.
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