Edwin Parker ‘Cy’ Twombly, Jr. was a renowned American painter and sculptor. Born in Lexington, Virginia, the most important individual who inspired him in his formative years was the Spanish artist, Pierre Daura. After receiving formal training in art from Pierre Daura and other different noteworthy art and museum schools, he took up painting professionally. He developed an interest in German Expressionism, Dadaism, and Soutine's work. He also took up sculpting and made statuette from discarded materials. Most of his works were inspired by his sponsored tours to Europe and Africa. He worked as a cryptologist in the U.S. Army for a brief period as well. This job influenced his artistic style and became his trademark medium. He started with effortless graphic marks, and soon created a meta-script which used abridged signs, numbers and uncomplicated hieroglyphs. His work demonstrated an amalgamation of poignant expansiveness and scholarly sophistication, and an immeasurable preoccupation with cultural memory. His paintings, drawings and sculptures based on the theme of mythology are an important fragment of that cultural memory. Together with Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, he is regarded as one of the chief artists who detached himself from Abstract Expressionism.
- Twombly was born on 25 April 1928 in Lexington, Virginia. His father, Edwin Parker ‘Cy’ Twombly, was a baseball player who pitched for the Chicago White Sox.Somewhere between twelve to fourteen years of age, Twombly embarked on his long term relationship with art by taking up private lessons with Pierre Daura. In 1946, he graduated from Lexington High School and joined Darlington School in Rome.Later from 1948 to 1949, he studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and from 1949 to 1950, he was a student at the Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.From 1950 to 1951, he got a scholarship to study at the Art Students League of New York. Eventually, he met Robert Rauschenberg there who convinced him to attend Black Mountain College, North Carolina.From 1951 and 1952, he attended Black Mountain College along with Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Ben Shahn. He also met John Cage and was deeply influenced by Charles Olson, the poet and rector of the college.Career
- In 1951, Twombly's independent exhibition was prearranged by the Samuel M. Kootz Gallery in New York City. At that time, he was influenced by Kline's black-and-white gestural expressionism and Paul Klee's imagery.In 1952, he received an allowance from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to travel to North Africa and Europe. He was accompanied in this tour by Robert Rauschenberg.In 1954, he served as a cryptologist in the U.S. Army, an activity that later influenced his artistic style. During leave periods, he would often travel to New York to paint.From 1955 to 1956, he was a teacher at the Southern Virginia University. During summer holidays, he continued to travel to New York to paint in his accommodation.By 1959, he had become a well-known artist. At that time, he was interested in tribal art and invoked primitivism in his work. His art typically had thin white lines on dark canvases that seemed to be scratched on the surface.Around the same time, he achieved success as a sculptor as well. His initial sculptures were made out of discarded materials and were a testimony of his cultural memory from travels to Europe and North Africa. However, after a successful period, he quit sculpting in 1959.1962 onward, the recurrent theme of his art work was mythology, such as ‘Leda and the Swan’ and ‘The Birth of Venus’. Subsequently, from 1967 to 1971, he created several ‘Grey Paintings’ which featured brief, grey scrawls not forming any actual words but indicative of chalk writing on a blackboard.In the mid-1970s, he started to evoke scenery in his art through colours such as brown, green and light blue, written inscriptions, and collage elements. From 1976, he started making sculptures again. These were painted in white alike Classical forms, and created from discarded objects.In 1978, he created the huge historical collection ‘Fifty Days at Iliam’, inspired by Homer's Iliad; from then onward, he continued to depict literature and mythology in his art.Major Works
- In the 1960s, the recurrent theme of Twombly’s work was mythology. From 1960 to 1963, he painted the rape of Leda by Zeus/Jupiter six times, once in 1960, twice in 1962, and thrice in 1963.Some of his other significant works of this period are ‘Leda and the Swan’ and ‘The Birth of Venus’.He concluded the monumental ‘Four Seasons’ painting in 1994. The next year, he gifted it to the Museum of Modern Art.For the 2010-11 season of the Vienna State Opera, he designed the large scale picture ‘Bacchus’, measuring 176 sqm as part of the exhibition series ‘Safety Curtain’.Awards & Achievements
- In 1984, he received the ‘Internationaler Preis für bildende Kunst des Landes Baden-Württemberg’, in 1987 the ‘Rubens-Peis der Stadt Siegen’ and in 1996, the prestigious ‘Praemium Imperiale’.He received the Golden Lion at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001. Earlier, he had also exhibited at the event in 1964 and 1989.In 2010, the French government honoured him with the ‘Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur’.In 2010, his permanent site painting, Ceiling was made public at the Musée du Louvre, Paris. He is only the third artist, apart from Georges Braque and François Morellet, who had this honour.Personal Life & Legacy
- In 1957, Twombly shifted to Rome where he fell in love with Baroness Tatiana Franchetti. They got married in New York in 1959 and had a son, Cyrus Alessandro Twombly. Like his father, Cyrus grew up to be a painter.After getting married, the couple bought a palazzo in Rome. They also owned a 17th century villa. They remained married till Tatiana’s death in 2010.In 1964, he met Nicola Del Roscio of Gaeta who became his long-term assistant, archivist and companion. He even bought a house and rented a studio in the quaint Italian village.On 5 July 2011, he passed away in Rome after suffering from cancer for many years. His will assigned most of his art work and money to the Cy Twombly Foundation.Trivia
- For his famous ‘Grey Paintings’, he used to sit on the shoulders of his friend and slide along the length of the canvas, striking his fluid lines.In 2010, a film on him titled ‘Edwin Parker’ was produced by Tacita Dean.
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