During the early 1960s, Cy Twombly's works suddenly saw the firework-like introduction of an explosive new range of colours and textures. The extraordinarily intense Untitled was executed in 1961, the watershed year in which Twombly created an incredible number of masterpieces including the Ferragosto series recently united in the exhibition dedicated to him held at the Tate Modern last year.
Twombly had painted the Ferragosto works while holed up in Rome during August, when the town was nigh abandoned and the heat was stifling. Untitled displays a similar range of textures as those paintings, with the red and white oils that articulate certain areas of the surface forming an almost bodily smear that adds to the picture's dynamism. The almost over-ripe appearance of the feverish Ferragosto pictures here appears to have subsided, perhaps reflecting the fact that this picture was created not in the heat of the South but instead in Milan, in the North of Italy; however Twombly has retained the frenetic stream-of-consciousness energy and intense sensuality that characterised those Southern, Summer pictures. This is especially evident in the gestural application of the areas of thick, daubed oils which contrast with so much of the rest of the canvas, adding a tactile, tangible sense of substance to the work.
By 1961, Italy had become Twombly's adoptive home; he had married an Italian and had a son there, and had moved into a spacious palazzo in Rome. Twombly had first visited Italy, and indeed Rome, almost a decade earlier when he had been on a tour of North Africa and Europe with his friend and fellow artist, Robert Rauschenberg. Twombly had been struck by the sense of history that surrounded him in Africa and Italy, where, modern life played out against a backdrop that was often millennia old. Twombly's scrawled marks on the canvas of Untitled show the influences of Abstract Expressionism and of ancient graffiti alike. Each line becomes the record of the artist's own experience and indeed existence, a proof of life. But as is the case in all of Twombly's greatest works, Untitled only ever teeters tantalisingly on the brink of comprehension, never allowing the various forms that articulate its surface to coalesce into anything overly figurative, legible or indeed specific, and thereby retaining their intense evocative visual power. The sribbles and smears sometimes give the appearance of adhering to an inner logic, of being the result of a systemic approach; some of the lines appear almost like writing echoing the artist's own signature, while some of the forms appear near-illustrative such as the heart-shaped red surrounded by barbed-wire like looping pencil marks. But ultimately all these elements melt from our understanding, remaining deliberately and defiantly beyond our grasp. In this way, Untitled stands as a perfect and poetic encapsulation of the process, and elusiveness, of memory.