My current bedside reading is a biography of JMW Turner and I’m nearly at the end. There’s considerable discussion, reflecting what was said at the time, about whether his creative powers were fading (he was 75, a figure which is significant here), as sharp as ever, or even entering a new quasi-golden age.
Cy Twombly is, as I’ve remarked previously, a challenge. His work is absolutely non-representational and, consisting as it does mainly of what appear to be completely random shapes, is less than easily categorised as abstract either, if you accept that the term “abstract” refers to something abstracted, or drawn out from, a recognisable form.
Now, here’s the thing. In 2003, when this book begins, oh best beloved, Cy Twombly was 75. Whatever you think of his art, and even if you don’t understand it, there’s no doubting the vitality that’s here. You have to look at the captions to get the sheer size (98 x 74 inches isn’t uncommon), but the explosion of brilliant colour is unmissable. No book can really capture the expansive sweep of the shapes, but you do get a sense of the confidence of the artist. These are not the tentative strokes of a man trying to recover old glories, but rather the statements of someone whose previous work could almost be said to be a preparation for this moment. As well as the detractors, there were those who said the same of Turner, that his brilliant colours were not the result of fading eyesight (though Turner may well have been suffering from cataracts), but of a man whose inner vision was clearer than ever.
I’m still not a Twombly convert, but I can certainly see his greatness.
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