Cy Twombly


1928, Lexington, Virginia
2011, Rome, Italy

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How graffiti influenced Twombly

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American artist Cy Twombly’s work is, by design, illegible. Curator Gary Garrels. 



Cy Twombly as a young man, moved to Europe in the early 1950s. He was coming of age as an artist at the moment where Abstract Expressionism was becoming the dominant intellectual force in painting.  


But, Twombly was skeptical about Abstract Expressionism. He began to develop the idea of painting as something with the possibility of narrative and storytelling and myth; he was very interested in classical antiquity, mythology, the stories, the struggles of the gods. 


He was interested in street art, in graffiti, the scratches, the scrapings, the sense of masonry, of stone, of time being captured, but as a fragile marking on these surfaces. You know, these great stone buildings that had been there for 2000 years remain, but it’s the surfaces that change, that deteriorate, where next generation keeps adding its mark, leaving its trace.  


The paintings, in many cases, feel almost like very large drawings, rather than what we would consider painting. You really get a sense of the artist’s hand, and the line and a kind of abstract narrative writing in the works. They evoke legibility, but remain inscrutable.

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