Cy Twombly - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 10, 2012 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    The feeling is going on with the task. The line is the feeling, from a soft thing, a dreamy thing, to something hard, something arid, something lonely, something ending, something beginning.


    (Cy Twombly, from an interview with David Sylvester, Art in America, July, 2000).

    Cy Twombly’s process of creation was an example of the most pure and elemental expression. Though many have tried to force his style into a stylistic classification—among them Post-Expressionism and American Gestural Expressionism—many critics finally landed upon a term invented solely for Twombly: Romantic Symbolism. His technique was married to the whims of his hand and mind, simultaneously receiving and delivering inspiration to his work. In the present lot, Untitled (Paris, May 1963), 1963, Twombly’s artistic dreams bear the imprints of a Parisian atmosphere, replete with images of a French impressionistic past.

    Twombly spent much of the early 1960s in southern Europe; settling in various locations in and around Italy. In accordance with the Mediterranean setting, Twombly’s paintings began to exhibit a plentitude of symbol and kinetic rhythm among their many working parts. It was here that he developed the written line into an activity and artistic product in and of itself. But soon his canvases and works on paper began to breathe with figurative wealth; symbols suggestive of myriad subjects—Americana, geometric shapes, various words and phrases—began to infiltrate the spaces between his characteristic lines. Soon, Twombly had given birth to his own mythology. Simultaneously, he paid homage to the mythology of ancient Greece: 1963 saw the final year of his “Leda and the Swan” series.

    In addition, Twomby began to adopt pencil-work as his chosen medium. Consequently, his work adopted a quality of drawn detail as opposed to the color-based nature of paint. Furthermore, this detail began to yield visual tropes far different from that of his previous work: “The pencilwork introduced a family of ‘rationalized’, diagrammatic elements: ruled rectangles, singly or in series; sequences of numbers; circles and repeated semicircles; and clusters of forms that suggest overhead, plan views of unknown arrangements.”(K. Varnedoe, “Inscriptions in Arcadia”, Cy Twombly, New York, 1994, p. 31). Yet, working in Paris, Twombly turned away from the Mediterranean spirit of ancient mythology and moved towards a cosmology more in keeping with the Impressionists. What the present lot represents is a sojourn to Twombly’s peaceful dreams, as opposed to the violent excess of the history paintings. Much as France inspired the spectacular sky views in Van Gogh’s Starry Night, 1889, Twombly’s work shed a degree of direct visual correlation. Instead, it became less word and figure-oriented and more whimsical in its subject.

    Untitled (Paris, May 1963), 1963, attains the variety of its surface through Twombly’s use of three types of stylus: pen, pencil, and colored pencil. From a point in the middle of the picture’s surface, we witness the illusion of a central point of perspective, forms spilling out from a single source. Twombly’s shapes are weightless, suggestive of ethereal clouds against a bright white background. Some dance upwards in the picture, as though the viewer were watching them pass overhead. Elsewhere, in scrawls of red, they move together under the observer’s feet. In all of this movement, Twombly incorporates a limited number of figuratively suggestive shapes, possibly a horse’s head that breathes clouds from its open mouth.

    Twombly allows the purity of his picture’s surface to remain intact, and, as he has suggested that white is the default state of the intellect—a sort of metaphorical surface of thought—the ethereality of the shapes upon the current lot gives a portrait of a mind relaxed. Ever the Francophile, Twombly was a great fan of the poetry of Stephane Mallarme, who advocated the use of words simply for the sensuous experience of pronouncing them. Twombly’s painting and drawing style was the pictorial equivalent of Mallarme’s practice, creating shapes and colors for the joy of creating them rather than keeping an end goal in mind. In turn, Twombly’s suggestive shapes and colors evoke in us a completely sensuous experience: “While feeling out the symbols, we become entangled in a sensitizing process which turns out to be the message.” (K. Schmidt, “The Way to Arcadia: Thoughts on Myth and Image in Cy Twombly’s Painting”, from Cy Twombly, Edited by Paul Winkler and Julia Brown Turrell, Houston, TX, 1990, p. 30).

    Coincidentally, Mallarme also influenced the French composer Claude Debussy, who has come to embody the movement of French Impressionist music. Similarly to Twombly, Debussy’s compositions are capricious odes, less conventionally melodious and more an effort to evoke a certain state of emotion within the listener. Untitled (Paris, May 1963), 1963, meshes more with this interdisciplinary tradition to a further extent than it does with any direct tradition of painting. Indeed, as Twombly chose clouds as the perfect form in which to showcase the stand-alone beauty of the line, Debussy was fascinated with the capricious nature of heaven’s pillows, going so far as to title a movement of one of his pieces “Nuages”, or “Clouds” in English.

    Returning to Italy, Twombly resumed his history paintings, creating works on canvas and paper that would be met with controversy at his next show in 1964 at Leo Castelli Gallery in New York City. Yet Twombly was not one to be deterred by criticism, and his subsequent pieces bore the same visual poetry and striking brightness with which the present lot glows. In bold contrast to the emerging Pop movement, the dying Abstract Expressionist movement, and the developing styles of minimalism, the present lot defies any characterization, as does Twombly himself. He would return to the whimsical visual trope of clouds in his work of the 1970s, and, in the following four decades until his death, he continued to be as uncompromising in his artistic integrity as ever. As blank spaces that fill the canvas of the sky, clouds echo Twombly’s approach to art: free-form autonomy.

  • Artist Biography

    Cy Twombly

    American • 1928 - 2011

    Cy Twombly emerged in the mid-1950s alongside New York artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. While at first developing a graffiti-like style influenced by Abstract Expressionist automatism–having notably studied under Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell at the legendary Black Mountain College between 1951 and 1952–Twombly was a prominent figure in the new generation of artists that challenged the abstract orthodoxy of the New York School. Twombly developed a highly unique pictorial language that found its purest expression upon his life-defining move to Rome in 1957. Simultaneously invoking classical history, poetry, mythology and his own contemporary lived experience, Twombly's visual idiom is distinguished by a remarkable vocabulary of signs and marks and the fusion of word and text. 

    Cy Twombly produced graffiti-like paintings that were inspired by the work of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell. His gestural forms of lines, drips and splattering were at first not well-received, but the artist later became known as the leader of the estrangement from the Abstract Expressionism movement. Full of energy and rawness, Twombly's pieces are reminiscent of childhood sketches and reveal his inspiration from mythology and poetry.

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Untitled (Paris, May 1963)

ink, graphite, and colored pencil on paper (Arches France)
sheet: 29 3/4 x 42 1/2 in. (75.6 x 108 cm)
Signed, inscribed, and dated “Cy Twombly, Paris, 63” central right.
This work has been reviewed by the Cy Twombly Foundation and has been endorsed with the identification number 93-60.

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

10 May 2012
New York