"Generally speaking my art has evolved out of interest in symbols abstracted, but never the less humanistic; formal as most arts are in their archaic and classic stages, and a deeply aesthetic sense of eroded or ancient surfaces of time." (Extract from Twombly's application for a Catherwood Foundation fellowship, 1956, quoted in Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, exh. cat., K. Varnadoe, New York, 1994, p.14)
Cy Twombly's work as a sculptor has been a largely private and precious obsession co-existing alongside his distinguished career as a painter for the last sixty years. Although his sculptures had been included in one person museum exhibitions from 1975 on, until the publishing of Nicola del Roscio's catalogue raisonné of the artist's sculpture in 1997, the scope of Twombly's three dimensional work remained little known. Del Roscio's catalogue revealed that Twombly had, in a periodic series of intense bursts of creativity, produced over one hundred and forty extraordinarily lyrical, evocative and poetic sculptures, from the very beginning of his artistic career. The sculptures, pieced together out of commonplace materials unified by a layer of white paint, reveal the imagistic possibilities of unlikely things. These works remained less known than the paintings because few had been exhibited and the vast majority of them stayed either in the artist's possession or in the collections of close friends and relatives.
Untitled is a rare hand-painted bronze cast of what is widely considered to be one of Twombly's very first mature sculptures - an untitled work of 1953, originally executed in wood, wire, twine, nails, fabric and house paint suggesting, among other things, Pan's pipe. Given by Twombly to Robert Rauschenberg, this piece is now in the collection of the Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva Island, Florida. It was cast in 1989, at a time when the artist began to make some of his sculptures in the more permanent material of bronze.
This highly totemic work evokes a very ancient, almost timeless and non-specific world. Visually suggestive, it is the first of Twombly's sculptures to conjure the sensual, ethereal and highly alluring Mediterranean myth of Arcadia - a utopian netherworld of the poetic imagination beyond time and space which was to hold such a powerful grip on the artist throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.
Clearly reflective of the dramatic transition that took place in Twombly's work during his travels in North Africa and Italy, this sculpture is also the first to echo and reflect upon the progress he was also making in his paintings and graphic work at this time. In addition to Twombly's evocation and his laudatory presentation of ancient and simple musical architecture on an elevated plinth, the sculpture's repetitive sequence of vertical forms, so elegantly bound together into a simple fence-like structure, also echoes many of the forms that emerged in his North African paintings and sketchbooks. In paintings such as Quarzazat, and Tiznit of 1953 for example - works in which Twombly's schismatic style of experiential mark-making and lyrical graphic form was developing into a free-form poetic language all of its own - repeated vertical forms, bound closely together are a recurrent motif. The phallic and inverted asparagus-like forms of this sculpture invest it with a fetish-like quality and power that is reminiscent of a tribal votive offering. This fetishistic character was also distinctive in Rauschenberg's work of the period. Following his influential meeting with the Italian artist Alberto Burri in Rome, Rauschenberg produced a series of open-form sculptures made from found objects that vaguely emulated the human form and which he called 'Personal Fetishes'. In their works of this time, both Rauschenberg and Twombly emphasized the power of humble objects as materials, incorporating them via such elementary techniques as roping, wrapping, piling, and stacking. And in 1954 Rauschenberg began to make his constructions of oil, paper, cloth, metal, and wood that are now called Combines.
"It is difficult," Twombly wrote of this seminal and life-changing period in his career, "to begin to tell of the many, many things I saw and experienced - not only in art and history but of human poetry and dimensions in fleeting moment and flux. I will always be able to find energy and excitement to work with from these times. I see clearer and even more the things I left. It's been like one enormous awakening of finding many wonderful rooms in a house that you never knew existed" (Undated letter 1953, quoted in Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, exh. cat. K. Varnadoe, New York, 1994, p.17).
From this energy and excitement, Twombly set out on a journey which joined the fresh and the ancient into one of the most innovative bodies of work of our time.
As Edward Albee writes: "Among the US painters of the second half of the 20th century (and through to now) one stands out to me as painter who redefined sculpture (Robert Rauschenberg), and one emerges that rare artist equally important in both fields, equally exciting as painter and sculptor" - Cy Twombly.
Cy Twombly is an artist who has made sculpture almost as long as he has made paintings, but public awareness of it has been slow in arriving. (But again, it is not until well into his career that people began to sense the worth of his paintings - not that he was slow in blooming, but the specialness of the work, the uniqueness of the vision, put off those who have to relate something to some specific other in order to know how their response should be formulated.)
Does Twombly's sculpture look like the kind of work a painter would make? No; certainly not. Does his painting look like the sort of work a sculptor would make? Equally: no. Both his paintings and his sculpture look like the extraordinarily individual, mysterious and inevitable artworks that an artist of his caliber and thrilling non-referentiality would make.
We can say of Twombly's work - as praise - that we don't know where it comes from, that its sources exist solely in the mind of the artist and the comparisons tell us nothing.
Twombly's sculpture looks as though it has always existed and is, at the same time, totally new. It refers only to itself (however much we attempt to demystify it). The pieces are solid, airy, serious (but never humorless) and say to us "Look at me as I am. I am simply this."
What a wonder for us that "simply this" is so thrilling, so individual. I wouldn't be surprised if one day - way down the line - Cy Twombly will be known as the great sculptor who also did some amazing paintings."(Extract from an essay by Edward Albee in Cy Twombly Sculptures 1992-2005, exh. cat., E. Albee Munich, 2006, pp. 10-11)