I’ll admit that I approached this with some trepidation. I just about get Jack the Dripper and I can appreciate Piet Mondrian, though he does make me think of those slide-the-tile puzzles, or Windows 8 (curse you, Microsoft!). Twombly though, well, it’s a big ask.
Cy Twombly ploughed his own furrow, ignored contemporary artistic trends and went un-noticed for much of his life, though he was recognised, by the time of his death in 2011 at the age of eight-three, as one of the Twentieth Century greats.
Twombly’s art is all his own and contains its own language and internal references. It is, maybe, a form of Zen, in which the viewer is invited to create their own images and responses to visual and sensual stimuli, rather than simply relying on what the artist provides. What the brain sees here is more akin to its response to music than to conventional visual art. The more you look at it, the more sense it begins to make: a bit, perhaps, like being able to discern individual words in a foreign language. To speak it fluently, though, would be the study of a lifetime. In short: I’m beginning to get it, but it hasn’t moved me yet. Cue my usual allusion to free jazz, which I totally get but which, to the general listener, usually only sounds like a fatal accident in a piano factory.
But this is The Essential Cy Twombly, so does it mean that we absolutely have to understand the man? You could argue that, if he’s as widely regarded as he is, yes, we should. Or you could say that the Emperor’s new clothes are the Emperor’s new clothes however you display them. Dismiss modern art, though, at your peril: it may be classical to you, but it’s all Greek to me, etc etc. No, this is the essence, the beating heart, of a man who produced a great number of works during a long life and whose style defies classification, maybe even description. Start to look at his work and you realise that, although it’s about as abstract as it gets and often consists of scribbles (and is mostly untitled, which doesn’t help either), every piece is more than subtly different while retaining that common and central language I referred to earlier.
Am I a convert? No. Do I want to see Twombly’s work in the flesh? Er, yes, I think I do.
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