Painting by Cy Twombly.

Cy Twombly, Untitled, 2007 © Cy Twombly Foundation. Photo: Robert McKeever

Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly was born in 1928 in Lexington, Virginia, in the USA. He studied art in Boston and was fascinated by expressionism, dadaism and surrealism. In 1950, Twombly moved to New York to pursue his studies, and discovered the works of the abstract expressionists Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.

He also met Robert Rauschenberg, who encouraged him to apply to the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. A couple of years later, Twombly and Rauschenberg set off on a journey to Europe and North Africa, a trip that was to have a pivotal impact on Twombly’s artistic development.

In an attempt to sidestep the style he had learned at art school, Twombly began in 1953 to draw at night, with the lights turned out. A couple of years later, letters, graphic symbols and fragments of words began to appear in his paintings and this soon became a characteristic feature of his work.

In 1957, Twombly settled in Rome, and has lived mainly in Italy since then. Early in his artistic career, he began exploring classical themes from mythology and history. But the stories in his paintings are fragmentary, indicated only with a few words or symbols, suggesting narratives that we may remember vaguely or realise that we have. The words that occur in his compositions evoke a condensed form of poetry, often with parts of the words painted over to the point of making them illegible. His paintings have been compared to graffiti, childish scribbling or samples of different handwriting.

Cy Twombly’s works override the boundaries between painting, drawing, sculpture and the written word. He draws on both historical and personal references, mixing private memories with mythical tales. His works also bridge the gap between American and European post-war art, linking abstract expressionism with conceptually oriented art.

Cy Twombly has exhibited frequently in both Europe and the USA for more than half a century. In 2001, he was awarded the Golden Lion for his oeuvre at the Venice Biennale.

Cy Twombly died on 5 July, 2011 after a long period of illness.

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