Archives for posts with tag: Cy Twombly

In early October 2019 David Cook and I visited Peter Doig: Paintings at Michael Werner, and Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, both in London. Afterwards, we discussed the shows by email. The following is the result of several weeks of electronic toing and froing...part four

Cy Twombly, Untitled, 2004
81 x 38.5 x 29.5 cm

Cy Twombly, Untitled (Snafu), 2009
89.3 x 40 x 19.3 cm


For me, Twombly’s paintings and sculptures are distinct – yet they do share this particular relationship with the colour white. It is more than just a ground in the paintings, it has purity and space. And for the sculptures too, it draws the forms together and also softens the light hitting them. These are not shiny objects – that seems important; is it because it makes them feel somehow timeless? Although they are very definitely not from another age. Interesting to note though that while some of the sculpture is cardboard painted white, other pieces are bronze painted white. So he is playing with us to some extent.

The paintings have so much motion and energy and yet the sculpture feels very still – they have none of that manic gestural dynamic that is one of the main characteristics of the paintings. Would you like to have seen some of the paintings alongside the sculpture? Are shows that are exclusively one or the other helping or hindering the understanding of the work?


Yes, it would be interesting to see the two together (or at least in the same show) – partly because the paintings are often on a larger scale and seem more cerebral and distant as a result. These sculptures are on a human scale – it’s easy to imagine how they were made – there seems to be no special skill used in their making. The same couldn’t be said of the paintings, which to me always seem very precise and measured despite the marks used to create them. And Twombly is in total control of his mark making – I can’t imagine anyone successfully imitating his approach and so the paintings exhibit a unique skill.

Where I think there is a similarity in the use of the two media and why they seem consistent with each other is that there are ideas buried deep in the work – these objects are propositions. And in both painting and sculpture Twombly is economical with marks/ images to sharpen the viewer’s focus on something. All deceptively simple and delivered with a lightness of touch.

Can we talk about this piece?:

Cy Twombly, Untitled (In Memory Of Babur), 2009
76 x 54.8 x 35.3 cm


I want to say that it looks like a prehistoric handbag, but I probably shouldn’t…this is bronze, isn’t it? It seems like a very opaque ancient artefact…I was interested that you thought Twombly’s work is a proposition of some sort. What is being proposed do you think?

All those people who used to drone on about plinths are echoing in my head too. Very much a part of this work. For me this work is a distillation of our fetishisation of ancient cultures, but with the content removed. Its aged surface, and its cryptic, but definite shape, recall the stylised horns of a pagan god. Listening to too much black metal again perhaps, but an echo of the past is here.


That’s really funny! I don’t see it as anything recogniseable. It looks to me like some kind of (deep) symbol – like an element of a pictographic written language.

They are simple propositions – how about this mark/ shape/ object – could this convey meaning – how deeply does this resonate?

Yes, I think the echoes of the past are deliberate – and Twombly is probing the symbolism of his marks, turning things over to see what’s underneath. Black metal aside, is there poetry in here?


I’m really not sure.

I can see an oblique link to the past – which means a sort of fetish for the strong emotions of classical stories and images, reinterpreted – in his paintings – by a kind of brilliant mutation of abstract expressionism. But the sculpture in this show, while still redolent of the past, is mute.

The spontaneity of gesture in the paintings is a living language, but the sculptures feel like relics, shells, ghosts. There is no juice in them. The bloody, sexy mess that inhabits the paintings is departed, and these are the bleached bones.

So yes, maybe that is a kind of poetry.

Cy Twombly, Untitled (Humpty Dumpty), 2004
73 x 49 x 49 cm


Part one of this conversation can be found here, part two here and part three here.


To see much nicer images of these works visit Michael Werner Gallery here and Gagosian here.


David Cook has been reviewing exhibitions in the capital on his blog London Eyeball since 29th May 2012. You can delve in here.

In early October 2019 David Cook and I visited Peter Doig: Paintings at Michael Werner, and Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, both in London. Afterwards, we discussed the shows by email. The following is the result of several weeks of electronic toing and froing...part three


Yes, we are miles apart on this one! I suppose when I said it looked like the work of any old Expressionist painter, that was a lazy way of saying that some of the distortions seem a little over familiar and the non-perceptual colours and shapes used to suggest emotion seem second hand. Doig isn’t an emotional exhibitionist in the same way as the original Expressionists, but he is – like them – trying to nudge our emotional compass. It’s odd…his art appears naive to me, but it really isn’t. There is a slightly disingenuous quality to that.

Before we move on shall we just look at Night Bathers, (which I think we weren’t actually able to see on the day we went)? It has this same ambiguous innocence and slightly deceptive naive quality. It also has strong echoes of Gauguin and seems to be an aftershock of an unacknowledged sensuality. Is there a parallel between Doig’s Trinidad and Gauguin’s Tahiti?

This is another one I have a hard time with.

Peter Doig, “Night Bathers”, 2019
Oil on linen
275 x 200 cm


This is interesting because the figures appear to be floating and the sea looks like a concrete wall. The various elements of the picture are very jarring in that the style of every area of the painting seems very different – the building! Ha, that’s brilliant!  It’s a superb palette as well – kind of descriptive of night time on a beach, whilst referencing modernist paintings and being toxic enough that it seems contemporary.

I agree with you that these paintings are not naïve – there’s an argumentative intensity to the clash of painting styles – and it’s a fine balancing act. They are irritating and sensual enough that I worry over the intent. And the images are simple enough that they linger in the memory. Maybe what I like most about these paintings is the element of risk at their heart – something which is not obvious in the earlier work (although maybe then the risk then was being a painter in a post-painting art world).

Shall we talk about Cy Twombly?


Yes, let’s talk about Cy. A short stroll took us from Doig to Twombly, to a show of his sculpture. I can think of very little to connect the two artists except perhaps that they both live/lived in a kind of exile: Doig in Trinidad, Twombly in Rome. Perhaps both to some extent were ill at ease with their native North American culture.

Twombly always created works that feel harmoniously whole and strangely alive, like he was touching some kind of trunk cable inside himself and holding on as its current ran through him. And I love that very simple entry point the works have – energy, form, stillness. A certain kind of perverse wit, daring the viewer to see the work for what it really is – in the case of the sculpture, a lot of white paint on some old cardboard – but at the same time feel the wholeness of the form.

I know some people don’t like painted sculpture at all – but I disagree. I don’t know why Twombly did it though. Do you think the white paint on the objects is a kind of reference to the Carrara marble in ancient Rome?

Cy Twombly, Untitled (To Apollinaire), 2009
Wood, white paint, cardboard,
and plastic strings
53.3 x 30.5 x 24.1 cm


The paint has been applied partly to create a tension between the form and the materials. We are being invited to contemplate forms made of cheap, everyday materials at a slight remove – because of the uniformity of the paint. The effect would not be the same if we were presented with an arrangement of cardboard boxes, bearing handling instructions, manufacturer’s logos and in different shades of brown. I don’t think the materials are supposed to be a distraction in that way. And, yes, I think the sculptures could well be referencing Carrara marble and playfully asking the viewer if a sculpture has to be made from particular materials to be worthy of serious contemplation.

While we’re talking about paint – do you think these works are extensions of Twombly’s painting practice or something distinct?

To be continued…


Part one of this conversation can be found here and part two here.