Born Edwin Parker Twombly Jr. and nicknamed after his father CY, Twombly’s work is considered “Romantic Symbolism.” Titles of his work reference poetry from John Keats, Rainer Maria Rilke and others. Twombly lived almost his entire adult life in Rome. While back in the US, artists like Jackson Pollock where using Abstract Expressionism to paint their internal drama after the war, Twombly was in Europe where society was trying to move on and forget. With a focus on the beauty that surrounded him, Twombly created paintings that evoke emotional responses. This wasn’t the case early on in his career. Twombly was a close friend of Robert Rauschenberg, who was an artistic influence. In the early 50s Twombly’s work was mostly black and white. He was drawn to Rauschenberg's monochromatic aesthetic of the time.
Graffiti like paintings on large scale canvases covering museum walls all over the world. This is where Cy Twombly’s work lives. Tate Modern, the MOMA in New York and The Broad Museum in Los Angeles are just a few museums that have Twombly’s work as part of their permanent collection. His work is big, not only in scale but in historical significance. Twombly’s work has been described as graffiti, childlike scribble and calligraphy, but most importantly just plain beautiful. The artist from Lexington, Virginia wowed and angered the art world. Now we can look back and see the genius and pure beauty.
In 1957, he returned to Rome and married Baroness Tatiana Franchetti and moved to the seaside town of Gaeta near Rome and the Mediterranean. Here is where Twombly began infusing color with themes of eroticism, love and violence. Dramatic use of color and poetry covered the larger than life canvases. Twombly would sit in front of the canvas for hours until the emotional state was at its peak, then an explosion of expression would hit the canvas often times finishing the painting in minutes. As random as the paintings and approach may appear, there is a real intelectual use of color and technique.
Twombly went on to become an influence on artists like Jean-Michele Basquiat and Anselm Kiefer. Basquiat would paint with books of Twombly’s work open all over his studio. His legacy continues mold as more and more artists are inclined to use words and poetry in their art. His work is impulsive, aggressive and even violent, all the while being touching and beautiful. Not many artists in history have been able to balance on that high wire of artistic expression.
"I used to change things in my early paintings to get the nuance or feeling I wanted, but now I plan everything in my head before I do it."