Cy Twombly died in a hospital in Rome on July 5th, according to Gagosian Gallery, his gallery representation. The artist was 83.
The New York Times obituary described Twombly as “a divisive artist almost from the start,” a description I would have to agree with. I even find myself personally divided over his output; I much prefer his very late painterly work to his scrawling early work. I enjoy all his sculpture from any period. Even with my preferences, there’s never any doubt that even in the early work a great artist is at work. It’s like saying you prefer mid-1930s Picasso to his later work, an artist Twombly will surely join in the art history canon.
Twombly stayed interested in connecting with the great artists of the past, particularly poets. The New York Times mentions Twombly’s interest in Rumi, Rilke and Pound, but I had a very powerful experience in front of one of Twombly’s Peony Blossom canvases (Untitled, 2007, shown at top) that quoted Takarai Kikaku:
AH! The Peonies
Took off his Armour
Twombly’s painting doesn’t show you realistic peonies, he lets you realize why Kusonoki take off his armor. This is beauty I can get behind.
Twombly showed the sisterhood of the arts, between poetry and painting, their complementariness. Though he frequently included text on the canvas, Twombly let each art form blossom in it’s own respective field. His approach recalls Gotthold Lessing’s landmark Laocoon (1766) which describes the relation of poetry and painting as: “two just and friendly neighbors, neither of whom indeed is allowed to take unseemly liberties in the heart of the other’s domain.” In this sense, Twombly was an artist of a different age, one not interested in hybridizing forms but innovating them. This is what made him great.
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