Seeming to graphically articulate a dense, spiraling tumult of intense and frenetic activity gradually building into an explosive mass set against a rational, quantifiable and ascending numerical scale, this impressive painting was made at the height of Twombly's first years living as a husband and father in Rome. Painted towards the end of 1961, it belongs to a series of comparatively small-scale paintings that Twombly made in the aftermath of the vast, colour-drenched, eschatological and highly erotic series of paintings known as the Ferragosto series that he had made in the full delirium-inducing heat of the Roman summer of 1961.
In direct contrast to these works, in which Twombly had explored to full effect his newly developed technique of painting with his fingers - smearing, smudging and swirling thick swathes of paint into dense conglomerations of expressive form -Twombly's concern in this group of 50 x 60cm canvases has been with a graphic expression of similar energy. Echoing the intensity of the Ferragosto paintings in places, these works are filled with dense scrawls in which Twombly's pencil line, incising into the white painted ground of the canvas, is laid and overlaid over itself in an often furious script. This work in particular appears to emphasize the path and progress of this line as it builds from a relatively controlled form to an explosion of rich material at the centre of the canvas. This is conveyed not just by the addition of an ascending numerical scale seeming to chart the distance and/or duration of the drawing's progress, but also in the precise manner in which the form that Twombly's line has taken. In a manner that appears to anticipate the artist's later development of a similar sequential looping line that builds in a progression of overlays until it takes on a life of its own, and which he was to develop extensively in his celebrated 'blackboard' paintings begun in 1966, this work also appears to begin with a sequential looping line at the left hand side of the canvas. Unlike the later 'blackboard paintings' however, in which Twombly maintained a more-or-less even rhythm of line throughout in order to generate an open and predominantly even spatial depth of field, in this work this looped line has been encouraged to rapidly spiral out of control into a dense fury of scratched and scribbled marks that establish a dynamic and frenetic material entity filling the centre of the painting.
Indicative of a kind of graphic crescendo as well as an apparent desire to chart the full gamut of expression possible from a series of marks that range from a rhythmic writing to a wild, impulsive and even violent scrawl, this work seems, in some respects, to document the entire graphic potential of Twombly's art.
Set both onto and within a multiple layered, painted white ground of the 'Mallarméan' type that Twombly favoured in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a kind of blank conceptual field in which space and time, writing and drawing, thought and image could all coalesce, the work brings the gentle scrawls and delicate lines of Twombly's subtler and more muted 'white' paintings of the 1950s to a fever pitch. In its use of such feverish, dense and intense scribbling at the centre of the work this painting also anticipates the implicit violence and ferocious activity of centralized form that not only exploded in the Ferragosto paintings of 1961 but which also infused the violence of such works as the Museum of Modern Art, New York's Leda and the Swan which Twombly was to make soon after this picture in early 1962. At the same time, Twombly's accompanying of this wild, almost organic-looking explosion of graphic energy with a strictly rational and sequential progression of numbers, also foreshadows his later interest in the graphic language of mathematics, calculation and geometry which was to manifest itself so powerfully in the mid-1960s in the 'Minimalist' style of his Bolsena and Treatise on the Veil paintings.
In this unique combination of apparent control, rational sequencing, quantifying and measuring all set alongside the wild feverish abandon and emotional intensity of Twombly's graphic scrawl, this work encroaches onto territory previously explored by Leonardo da Vinci in his scientific notebooks and in particular his studies of the flow of water. Twombly himself had a great interest in such studies. His interest in Leonardo stems at least from 1960 when he dedicated a work of that year to the great Renaissance artist; To Leonardo. Like his contemporary Joseph Beuys, who was attracted to Leonardo's notebook studies because he saw in these 'immutable dissections, diagrams, and codes, something irrationally driven by a demon of secret knowledge, and freighted with a private poetry of obsession', Twombly saw in Leonardo's graphical combination of writing, mathematical calculation and drawing a new and fascinating graphic conveyance of meaning (K. Varnedoe, Cy Twombly A Retrospective, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1994, p. 41).
Of particular relevance to this untitled painting of 1961, are Leonardo's studies of The Deluge - drawings in which the Italian master attempted to outline graphically the natural patterning of a swirling torrent of water. Rising from a faint but regular spiral into a heavily engrained torrent of scribbled form at the centre, over which the regular count or chart of numbers seems to rise as if measuring time or distance, this work seems to seismographically chart a similar path as that seen in Leonardo's so-called 'Deluge' studies. Seeming to travel from order into chaos or from a trickle into a flood using a tactile and intuitive graphic approach Twombly's fusion of painting, writing, and spontaneous, impulsive mark-making in Untitled spectacularly echoes Leonardo's earlier, more measured, analytical and observational approach at pictorially tackling the same natural mystery.