- Cy Twombly
- signed on the reverse
oil, oil based house paint, wax crayon, colored pencil and pencil on canvas
- 38 1/2 x 55 1/4 in. 97.8 x 140.3 cm.
- Painted in 1959.
Giorgio Franchetti, Rome
Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zurich
Peder Bonnier, Inc., New York
Donald B. Marron, New York
Stephen Mazoh & Co., Inc., New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1985
The yearning to decipher the written marks in Cy Twombly's Untitled (1959) is an inherently human need. The viewers' persistence in trying to read Twombly's surfaces, a fascinating yet futile game of projections, originate in the varying degrees of legibility encountered in his pictures. We simply cannot contain ourselves, accustomed as we are to an endless stream of messages in contemporary society. Twombly's paintings however, are not symbolic. They are not there to construe associations leading into complex metaphors or narratives. Rather, they correspond to a specific vocabulary of signs and gestures depicting the artist's personal experiences, the transience of his reality. To decipher their idiosyncratic forms employing conventional aesthetic values is to ignore the intentionality behind their decisive ambiguity. Twombly's visual language has neither syntax nor logic. In the words of Pierre Restany, it is comprised of "furtive gestures, an écriture automatique," (P. Restany, The Revolution of the Sign, 1961) and seem to function as a compulsory sensual and intellectual catharsis that is both universal and particular to the individual.
More than a pictorial surface, Twombly's canvases act as receptor devices where experience is preserved and not simply mediated. Untitled, a landmark painting executed during Twombly's creative zenith in Rome, belongs to a group of works considered to be: "the most impressive, most emotionally wrought of Twombly's career."(Kirk Varnedoe in Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, 1994, pp. 34-35) Twombly affirmed that the paintings executed after his arrival in the Italian capital in 1957 display a liberty of indulgent sensual release that only living abroad afforded him. Untitled is a vibrant response to Rome's exuberance and great Baroque spaces. Compared to some of his earlier works executed during the first half of the 1950s, the present painting is lighter; the marks are more dispersed allowing for a better appreciation of each individual element. It also demonstrates a higher level of lyricism than his earlier canvases while presenting a more aggressive release of explicitly defiling messiness.
Embodied in Untitled is not so much the grand architectural design of Roman antiquity - the classical tradition to which Twombly pays homage in majestic works such as The School of Athens and The Triumph of Galatea both of 1961 - but the more visceral experience of the Mediterranean milieu. The primeval energy in Untitled is explicitly linked to Twombly's gestural exuberance. As opposed to his American contemporaries whose art and personas were inescapably linked by the expressionist quality of the gesture, Twombly's marks display an analytical self-awareness unfolding in unstable concert; aimless insouciance and worried rumination live out a nervous permanently provisional accord. (Ibid, p. 28) Untitled mix of schematic forms, isolated framing grids, numbers and organic pictograms (often active references to the body and its processes) are drawn in pencil. Twombly had also started working at this time with a new paint called cementito which helps explain the new creamy facture present in Untitled.
Twombly's process of over- and under-painting, immense voids, and thick impasto, is a complex web of art historical manifestations. As suggested by Kirk Varnedoe, his particular mix of freshness, rawness and spontaneity actually owes much to the Impressionists. (Brooks Adams, "Expatriate dreams, Cy Twombly, Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York," Art in America, February 1995, pp. 60-69) Twombly's mature work may look as if it had been affected by natural elements or the passage of time. In Untitled, a few recognizable signs - a candle, a grid, a phallus - are spread out as the aftermath of some natural event. Twombly remains an enigma. Working as a cryptographer in the army in the 1950s, he described his short-term military performance as too "vague" to be much good at it. Perhaps that is a warning against becoming too analytical and exegetical about his work. Twombly's paintings are florid, romantic and ornately overstated; they are baroque, decadent concoctions. To analyze their sensuality instead of revelling in it would be, as in the words of Mark Rothko, to simply 'miss the point.'