"Marks that didn't really exist in painting before Twombly." Five artists on Cy Twomby excerpted by Jerry Saltz.

July 7, 2011 at 1:39pm

"Marks that didn't really exist in painting before Twombly." Five contemporary artists on Cy Twombly excerpted from 'The Guardian' by Jerry Saltz.


(Note: Feel free to write a SHORT paragraph on Twombly's work & post below. But K.I.S.S. Keep it SHORT, Stupid! And don't get all mooney & romantic. Just write about what the paintings DO; what they ARE. SHORT; SHORT). Or not.


1. Michael Craig-Martin

I first encountered Twombly as a student in the early 60s. … The dominant art of the period then, was abstract expressionism: a very assertive, extrovert, macho art like that of Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning, very gestural. And then there was Twombly's work, which was introspective and fragile. It was also abstract, but the mood could not have been more different.


One of the amazing things about his work, from the earliest days to now, is that you can see him in it – right through the whole thing.


He brought a certain kind of mark-making to art – that slightly childlike feeling of scribbling on paper, but which suddenly becomes very sensual and full of potential meaning. These were the kind of marks that didn't really exist in painting before him: seedy-like marks and scratchings.


He started this thing of being delicate and understated, but more sensual than emotional. His works showed different possibilities in painting. Now that he's famous and his work is familiar, it's easy to forget what an invention that was, what unknown territory this was.


The paintings themselves are very obscure, full of fleeting meanings. If you're not attracted to that, and want an explicit subject matter and message – which people often do today – these paintings are probably too subtle, un-giving. They're like a mental speculation - when your mind is slightly wandering. They're not didactic.

He was such a distinctive voice; there wasn't anybody else quite like him.



2. Brice Marden:

I remember seeing his “Discourses on Commodus” paintings in 1964, soon after I moved to New York. It was the show [artist/critic] Donald Judd famously panned. There was a centralized grid and a lot of roof paintings, and I was struck by the combination of that grid and the looseness of the painting. I used to wonder what happened to them, why I never saw them around. Now, reading the obituary in the New York Times, I see that everyone hated them. Later, when I became Robert Rauschenberg's assistant, he bought Twombly's Panorama, white chalk on black or brown; it was quite a treat to see that every day.


Cy wasn't afraid of paint, and he made it do the most beautiful things. I don't think he was too affected about whether or not he was fawned over on the art scene. He was amazingly relaxed, very comfortable with himself. I never heard him discussing his work, or Roman poets. You knew he liked to hang out and watch things; everything else went into the painting.


It's always very interesting to see him in relation to Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg. They all came out of abstract expressionism, but Jasper and Bob are realists, they used real images; Cy stayed abstract. There is that European touch, a certain elegance – and I don't mean that in a derogatory sense.


Yesterday, I was trying to imagine him at work. I can see Richter, all these other people, but it's hard to see him physically applying the paint. There was the relaxed demeanor he had, but such an intensity to the paintings. Was the relaxed demeanor because he had to be that way to work up that kind of intensity? I don't know. I sent him a note once, about his sculpture show in Basel, and he told me he taped it on his wall. It was an unbelievable show.


3. Howard Hodgkin:

I never met him, unfortunately, though I think I would have been very uncomfortable if I had: I would have felt jealous. Painters don't necessarily get on well with one another. What would I have been jealous of? I think the fact he made his work so expressive in all sorts of ways, without it becoming expressionist. At a time when painting is perhaps not taken as seriously as it once was, he was an extraordinary beacon for other painters. Certainly I learned from him, from that total emotional openness.


4. Maggi Hambling (English painter and sculptor):

For me, he was the greatest living painter. The life force he achieved with the touch of his paint could certainly not be achieved by any mechanical means. He was so moved by his subjects – the upward thrust of a tulip, the fragility of a rose, the noise of a street market, the abandon of a bacchanal...

It is as if his paintings are being made in front of me: they are not dead, finished things. The juxtaposition of life and death is finely balanced in every mark: the paint breathes. I am taken into unknown territory that is made immediately familiar.


His mixture of intimacy and grandeur, force and delicacy, creates a sexy dynamism. He advanced the language of paint – from late Titian, through Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Rothko and Pollock – and so takes his place among the elite. He is dead, but the courage of his work lives on.


5. Fiona Rae

They seem full of an improvisatory spirit and embody a freedom to express and include whatever he wanted – whether words from poems, or scrawled cartoonish hearts, or loopy, repetitive drawing ... full of humor, as well as the spiritual profundity for which he is the well-known poster boy.


His sculptures had a fantastic sense of the bathetic and hand-made, too: he was just as likely to include bits of scrunched-up colored tissue paper on top of an object as more tasteful, sculptural materials. His paintings straddled high and low, with intensity and feeling, like sad bouquets.