Sunday, August 7, 2011

Farewell To A Venerable American Artist

Cy Twombly died last month at age 83. He had been, quite simply, “My ART hero” for the last 25 years. One of the most admired and influential American painters of the past half century, he was most well know for his spare calligraphic scribbles and poetic engagement with classical verses.

I first became acquainted with Cy Twombly’s work years ago when visiting a jobsite in East Hampton, a venerable address with a low-key vibe and a high tone chic. It was in the early days of my design career, and I was the design assistant who did the leg work back and forth from Manhattan to the “Shangri-La” of East Hampton whenever we needed to be onsite for painters, delivery people etc. Those were the days… I still have a vivid memory of stepping in to the stunning “laid back” living room awash in beachy grays and blues, I stopped dead in my tracks. There before me, on a lone wall was a piece of art that stirred my emotion. I had never seen anything like it. I was later to learn that the artist was Cy Twombly and that the piece was one of a series in his “grey series”. That was the moment I fell in love with Cy Twombly’s art.

Edwin Parker “Cy” Twombly, Jr. was a Virginia boy who showed an interest in art beginning at age 12. He was educated in the United States School of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Art Students League of New York, and the Black Mountain College in North Carolina but spent the better part of his life living and working in Rome. A contemporary of Rauschenberg, Kline, Motherwell and Johns, Cy Twombly is perhaps most well known for his “blackboard paintings” (1967-1971) that were large in scale, freely scribbled, and calligraphic in style. They were known as the ‘grey paintings’, featuring terse, colorless scrawls done apparently while sitting on the shoulders of a friend, who shuttled back and forth along the length of the canvas.

Twombly was also hugely fascinated with art and ancient history, which is shown in his series of work based on classical history such as Leda and the Swan, The Birth of Venus and the Iliad. Apollo and the Artist, a series of 8 drawings consisting solely of inscriptions of the word “VIRGIL” and Fifty Days at Illiam, a 10-part cycle inspired by Homer’s Iliad and the enormous red spirals in his Bacchus paintings. He was fearless about spreading his work across vast surfaces, with some pieces like “Panorama” covering over 11 feet across. The Age of Alexander” was a 16-foot wide canvas.

Cy Twombly’s work has been shown at major galleries all over the world, with permanent collections in the US at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1990, his 1971 untitled blackboard painting sold for $5.5 million and in 2011 one of his “untitled” pieces sold for $15.2 million.

It is said that the most important continuity that Mr. Twombly cultivated was that between artwork and viewer, with his ultimate subject nothing less than the human longing to communicate.

I know that is true. His work speaks to me.

Barbara Ashfield

Photos from top:

A) Cy Twombly in Rome 1962 from

B) “Cold Stream” from

C) “Apollo and The Artist” fro

D) “Fifty Days at Illiam Shades of Achilles Patroclus and Hector” 1978 from

E) “Bacchus” from the Telegraph UK

F) “Roman Notes” from Antique Trader web site

G) “Untitled” (inscribed to the Tate) 2008 from