Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1982
Nicola Del Roscio, Ed., Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Drawings, 1980-1989, Vol. VII, Rome 2016, p. 131, illustrated in colour
The work is titled LYCIAN with a parenthesised subtitle of NIMPHIDIA. By 1982, Twombly had been pairing evocative titles with his abstractions for more than 25 years, but in the Lycian, Naxos, and Suma drawings we see him advance this practice. Where in 1978, Twombly was referencing a specific myth in his Venus & Adonis, and in 1981 a specific God in his Bacchus series, here he generalises further: Lycia was an entire geopolitical region of Turkey in the Fifteenth and Fourteenth Centuries BC, known in the modern era for the exceptional preservation of its ruins and its language. In giving the viewer such a broad context, from history so distant it is all but imagined, Twombly denies the reader any sense of narrative and eschews any rational link with the composition below. In his own words, his work “does not illustrate – it is a sensation of its own realisation” (Cy Twombly cited in: James Lawrence, ‘Cy Twombly’s Cryptic Nature’ in: Exh. Cat., New York, Eykyn Maclean, Cy Twombly: Works from the Sonnabend Collection, 2012, p. 17).
His turbulent oil work in the bottom half of the painting appears more measured than the other drawings in the series. However, it is charged with power. Linear red weaves through a pool of murky grey, punctuated with streaks of bright celestial blue. These colours are reflected in the inscription above, where the royal blue LYCIAN is followed by the grey signature and date, and the bright red ‘Nimphidia’. Twombly was insistent that he only thought of colour at its most basic level – “I’m not too sensitive to colour, not really”– so this chromatic reflection is perhaps not for aesthetic purposes, but more a statement about the general composition of the work: the two elements of text and image are not to be contrasted, nor do they illustrate each other, instead they sit alongside each other to be appreciated in tandem (Cy Twombly cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, 2008, p. 52).
In order to contextualise this work, we might turn to Brice Marden, whose 1988-89 Cold Mountain and his later Vine from 1992-93, show the same considered linear abstraction. It is known that Marden admired Twombly hugely as another stalwart of abstractionism, resisting the rapid emergence of Pop. The most pertinent point of comparison between these two works lies in that feature of Twombly’s work Marden aimed to imitate most: an “incredibly intense concentration in the mark making” (Brice Marden cited in: Kirk Varnendoe and Richard Serra, ‘Cy Twombly: An Artist’s Artist’, RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, No. 28, Autumn 1995, p. 163).
All things considered, Lycian Drawing should be a work filled with conflict: the reconciliation of unwieldy classical concepts with an abstractionist style reaching the peak of maturity; the juxtaposition of a crayon scrawl with confident bravura oil work. However, though calling this work harmonious would be the wrong description, it is nothing if not composed. Twombly develops his use of text, and achieves that abstract ideal of an arresting work, charged with power, that has been stripped of its formalised meaning and stands, uncoupled from narrative, alone.
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