Category Archives: The Port for Thought

Cy’s last sigh

Paradise Cy Twombly

What is it about Cy Twombly that makes me love him so much? The fact that I have been following his work for years and that I am enjoying its success at auction and the seemingly astronomical sums of money his work now commands. His unusual name, that’s Cy; short for Cyclone junior, or in my case sigh… . It bears a hint of gentlemanly southern drawl. The knowledge that we both suffered early unrequited love?

Twombly’s work is truly expressive; it transcends so many traditions from cave painting to classicism. The artist rejects abstract expressionism, although having attended Black Mountain College with Robert Motherwell, at the insistence of Robert Rauschenberg, he certainly understood it better than most. Known for his gestural abstraction, he is also a wonderful colourist; a signature burgundy with a hint of blood, blue reds, drawn up against geranium and shocking pinks with a confident ease that gives breathtaking, vibrant results.

I am curiously drawn to this artist. I wanted to know more about his work so I watched Tacita Dean’s film Edwin Parker. This shows Twombly as an old man but there is no disguising his intelligence. Warm brown eyes and an aristocratic nose belie a sensual, powerful man, trapped in an old man’s body. He is very clever, giving little away. Twombly does not have to speak loudly because everybody listens. Playing with his assistant Butch, discussing lettuce and mustard in a parody of southern drawl, his real concern is his son’s coffee consumption or what the FT says about Larry and the Sotheby’s contemporary catalogue.

The more you study him the more you realise Twombly was smart enough to leave some room for mystery. If I could ask him one question it would be about that, providing space for imagination. I am sure he would talk gently around the subject, allowing me to draw my own conclusions.

The artist only painted when he was in the mood. He could wait for days, weeks, months, reading poetry, he liked Keats and the later romantics, wondering, building up the energy and then the moment would arrive. He would take up his paint brush and paint directly onto the canvas, sometimes with his left hand or in the dark. A wounded emotion, a memory, a landscape, poem or classical theme; motifs were transfigured though artistic expression, quickly with a dynamism that left no room for second goes. In Twombly’s own words “each line is now the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate – it is the sensation of its own realization.” It is exactly as it is.

The opportunity to visit an exhibition of Cy Twombly’s work in Venice at the opening of the Biennale, discreetly supported by Gagosian Gallery, was just too much for me and I was compelled to go. I could not wait to see the work I acknowledged to be an act of commercial genius. However I was unprepared for my reaction to the exhibition.

Paradise is exactly where you would expect to find it, on the top floor of Ca’ Pesaro, a magnificent Venetian building with an excellent permanent collection overlooking the Grand Canal; the windows are of the most perfect proportions and the staircase monumental, taking me up to the top of the building, breathless, excited, a little afraid of heights or maybe ready to engage with my own version of the sublime?

If hearsay is to be believed, I was, perhaps, a little like the Countess of St Germains when she first arrived at port Elliot: “Where is the Earl, I think I am in love!”. As I reached the top floor of Ca’ Pesaro to enter Paradise, I nearly passed out before I had even entered the room or looked at a canvas. I had to hold on to the walls for a few moments and take in the space. It was magnificent, perhaps my subconscious already understood the true subject of the exhibition; it already felt worthy of my one-sided romantic quest.

The works were a mixture from 1951 until 2011, many from the Cy Twombly Foundation, private collections and others courtesy of the Gagosian Gallery. The show being curated by Julie Sylvester and Phillip Larrat-Smith, with the support of the Gagosian Gallery, Gabriella Belli and Daniela Ferretti, I was unsurprised that at the opening someone from Gagosian was present ready to field enquiries… perhaps discreetly responding to enquiries regarding the gallery-owned exhibits?

Paradise begins with the early wall painting on wood, from 1951 and follows a survey of works, including some beautiful roses on a small scale, sculpture, capriccios and, finally and perhaps most poignantly, to a selection of Twombly’s last works, produced in 2011 when the artist was approaching death: Four of these last eight paintings are on show here, gestural baroque circles in yellow, red and orange on a bright green background; eccentric circular strokes, key motifs of the artist, they are monumental, screaming, loud, demanding our attention, quite unlike his other works; they were his final message. What the brush strokes make up for in colour and size and attempts to draw the viewer to their final message, they lack in certainty.

Paradise until September 13 Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art, Venice

With thanks to the Marian Goodman Gallery for kindly providing the opportunity to see Edwin Parker by Tacita Dean

© Sweet Pea