I first encountered Cy Twombly's work back in the late-'80s when a friend of mine showed me a monograph of his paintings. Now, I considered myself pretty sophisticated when it came to art so when my response was the stereotypical, "a three-year old could do that!", well, I was shocked. I loved the AbEx giants like Jackson Pollock and Willem DeKooning, but this was something else altogether. After chuckling at my reaction, this friend of mine (who was himself a painter) politiely informed me Twombly was one of the finest draughtsmen in modern art and proceeded to point out putative examples in the book. I was flabbergasted. But I respected his opinion enough to take him at his word and I checked a number of books out of the library.
As it turns out, it is extremely difficult to scribble like a child once you are an adult -- especially if you have any sort of "training," which rewards representation (or imitation) over expression very early on. Indeed, Twombly turned down a solo exhibit early in his career and, instead, spent some time drawing in the dark so as to lose the habits of his schooling. From there, he went on to develop his inimitable signature style, marrying a prodigious formal technique to seemingly childlike mark-making.
To make a long story short, I learned to love Cy Twombly; in fact, he is probably my most favorite artist of all time, partly because of the very difficulty I had to overcome in order to appreciate his work. Part of the difficulty is the fact that his paintings and drawings do not reproduce well, deflating their often monumental scale and obscuring subtle details in the process. In person, his works are all-engulfing and powerfully expressive of ineffable truths about freedom, desire, frailty. At least to me. I feel fortunate to have attended the 1994 retrospective at MOMA and visited the Cy Twombly Gallery at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas.
So, I was sad to learn of his passing yesterday. He was 83 -- the same age as my Mom. He had lost his wife last year and was suffering from cancer, so it was probably a blessing. But it is hard to say goodbye to our heroes (and our family); fortunately for us, their works remain behind. Thank you, Mr. Twombly, for enriching my life. May you rest in peace.
The New York Times obituary is here.
Peter Plagens's comments here.
An extensive online gallery of Twombly's works can be found here.