Simon Schama in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Cy Twombly: Fifty Years of Works on Paper, 2005, p. 15
In Cy Twombly’s Untitled, formal restraint gives way to tempestuous scrawls of white crayon that swell, peak, and resolve themselves with visceral urgency across the surface of the paper. Executed in 1970, at the chronological apex of the artist’s celebrated 'Blackboard' works, Untitled is amongst the most gesturally expressive invocations of the urgent, interrogatory mark-marking which distinguishes the very best examples of this revered series; while invoking the cylindrical reverberations that characterize many of the Blackboard canvases, the coursing strokes of the present work are rendered with unprecedented abandon, as Twombly’s electrifying lines surge across the page with the raw force of a stripped wire. Untitled is a spectacularly realized instance of the ever-present tension between legibility and abstraction, gesture and expression, signifier and signified, that lies at the heart of Twombly’s extraordinary artistic practice.
Inscribed Roma on the reverse, Untitled serves as eloquent testament to the profound and enduring inspiration Twombly drew from the cultural, historic, and aesthetic specificities of his varied surroundings throughout the course of his extraordinary career. Upon his first visit to Rome in the early 1950s, Twombly was immediately taken by ancient forms of graffiti that he saw scrawled on the exteriors of historical Roman ruins; echoed with newfound ferocity in the graffiti-like strokes of the present work, the artist notes the profound influence the iconographic legacy of classical antiquity enacted upon his practice: "Generally speaking my art has evolved out of the interest in symbols abstracted, but never the less humanistic; formal as most arts are in their archaic and classic stages, and a deeply aesthetic sense of eroded or ancient surfaces of time.” (the artist cited in Nicola del Roscio, ed., Writings on Cy Twombly, p. 199) As indicated in the scrawled label upon the verso, it was in Rome, a city saturated in the talismanic presence of mythic and archaic legacy, the artist first conceived of the sparse iconography of the celebrated Blackboard works; begun in 1966, the Blackboards marked a moment of critical rupture from the artist’s richly colorful 'Baroque' paintings of the first half of the 1960s, instead giving rise to a larger body of works primarily defined by their pure austerity and visual sublimity. Rendered against the elegant sobriety of the slate-gray backdrop, the looping scrawls of Untitled teeter on the threshold of legibility in a masterful interrogation of sign, symbol, and mark.
In its frenetic, lasso-like scrawls, Untitled returns to Twombly’s first experiments with the effusive and turbulent scribbles in 1966, in which the ecstatic twists and bursts of line playfully overwhelm the surface to create a lyrical yet dramatic impression on the viewer. Unable to adhere to and penetrate the painted surface beneath, the waxy crayon hovers on the page, as if yearning to burst forth from the picture plane and dispense entirely with the boundary between art and life. While tentatively invoking the forced repetition of the Palmer handwriting method, in which the simple gesture of pencil to paper becomes an internalized bodily discipline, Untitled imitates yet clearly denounces these punishing typological drills; far from ceding to methodical repetition, the charged strokes of the artist’s hand leap across the page with furious intensity, their rhythmic cadence and raw, kinetic energy unhampered by methodical restraint or canonical impetus. As each stroke of Untitled reaches the outer limits of abandon and returns to the explosive point of origin, every inch of charged line serves as triumphant celebration of a more intuitive and gestural approach to art-making, in which the visceral movement of the Twombly’s hand stands as sole source of meaning; the artist reflects, “Each line now is the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate - it is the sensation of its own realization. The imagery is one of the private or separate indulgencies rather than an abstract totality of visual perception…it is an involvement in essence (no matter how private) into a synthesis of feeling, intellect etc, occurring without separation in the impulse of action." (The artist cited in Exh. Cat, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, 1994, p.27)
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