Burden of classical painting
Over the course of the 20th century artists have sought to cast off the burden of classical painting. Forget the figurative, forget western painting, forget “flat” painting that only depicts the two-dimensional, forget painting by adults, too, in favour of rediscovering the essence of a kind of childlike expression directly linked to the spirit…
Pantheon of 20th-century
The American painter who lived mainly in Rome, Cy Twombly (1928-2011), is one of these unselfconscious explorers who has become at the same time legendary and difficult to understand for a rational mind. He is part of the pantheon of 20th-century creators and his oeuvre is a mixture of extreme erudition and extreme spontaneity. He is known for his marks and writings on the canvas itself that seem to have been conceived in a trance (See here a report about the retrospective of Cy Twombly at Centre Pompidou).
Musée de Grenoble
This summer the remarkable Musée de Grenoble in South of France, is displaying no less than 86 drawings by the master on paper, made between 1973 and 1977. “This period served as a springboard for one of his most famous cycles, Fifty Days at Iliam” (1), explains the co-curator of the exhibition Jonas Storsve.
Powerful and sensual
The highly coherent exhibition is powerful and sensual. Twombly is a unique blend of American and European culture. In 1973, this man who was fascinated by antiquity, when evoking the Latin poet Virgil, would repeat his name again and again from one piece of paper to the next, like an advertising slogan. The writing has a nervousness to it; certain letters have been rubbed out, deleted, covered and repeated. Through this gesture, Twombly seems to be exercising a sort of incantation.
Nicola del Roscio
He used an identical process in 1976 with the names of Roman deities such as Venus or Apollo, which he surrounded with inscriptions and colourful collages. The president of the Cy Twombly foundation, Nicola del Roscio, points out that “Jean-Michel Basquiat claimed to have been inspired by this series in his work and his writings.” (See here an other interview of Nicola del Roscio)
But Twombly himself is an artist for whom the references seem to be more literary than visual. In one room there are papers dating from 1974 in which the central subject is a writer, or more often a poet, whose name is written in large letters, such as Montaigne, Valéry or Mallarmé.
“He would always bemoan the fact that poetry was disappearing, that people were no longer interested in it,” recalls Nicola del Roscio. The painter was also very sensitive towards the base on which he was writing, the paper texture itself. “He truly had a love affair with paper, paper of all kinds. Systematically, during his travels, he would collect all sorts. But he had a preference for Japanese paper. When he was making small format works he would lay them out all around him, on the floor, to draw on.”
In the works from this era we feel a distinct sense of rhythm, of movement. We can imagine that the kind of trance that defines this output is due to the fact that, among other things, as Nicola del Roscio reveals for the first time, at that point and up until 1977 he would listen to music while he drew. “Bellini’s Casta Diva but also an Iranian artist who sang like a nightingale, and Wagner, who was excellent to dream up battle scenes.” As for Twombly’s obsession with references from antiquity, the director of the foundation simply concludes: “you know it’s very difficult for an artist to face the blank canvas or page. Antiquity, for him, was nothing more than a metaphor.”
Until 24 September. Cy Twombly. Works on paper. (1973-1977).
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