Cy Twombly (1928-2011)
signed and dated 'Cy Twombly 1969' (on the reverse)
housepaint and wax crayon on paper
27½ x 33¼ in. (69.9 x 87 cm.)
Painted in 1969.
Hans Jürgen Müller, Stuttgart
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 1970

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the Catalogue Raisonné of Cy Twombly Drawings being prepared by Nicola Del Roscio.

A mesmerizing sequential continuum of rhythmically looping scrawl, Cy Twombly's Untitled, though imbued with the art historical tradition of Italy, was thought by the artist to be more stylistically aligned to the "relative coolness" of the New York School. Among his most admired works, this highly rigorous and cerebral series, comprising of simple white lines drawn over monochromatic gray voids, echoes the graphic process of writing. In what has been labeled the "blackboard" paintings, the written language has been stripped of any legible content into scrawled lines transformed from abstract scribbles that once flew freely from the pulsating expansions and contractions of the artist's own lyrical gestures. Contrasting with the scrawled ciphers and scratches of his earlier paintings, each individual mark in his lasso work captures an immediacy and uniqueness that is translated into an inexorably progressing whole, so that each idiosyncratic mark remains part of a collective motion. The current of Untitled's linearity courses through eight semi-determinate horizontal bands of steadily increasing widths. Triumphantly undermining any preoccupation with a central composition, the all-over rolling sweeps of the lasso-lines cover the expanse of the composition. Twombly's looped-line progressions are the single minimalist entity of infinite variety and nuance, evoking Heraclitus' vision of life being a river into which you can never step twice--Untitled is a single united yet continuously changing force.

Silhouetted against a dark background, Untitled retains Twombly's use of his signature fluid lines while highlighting the purity of their form and separating them from the heady concoctions that characterized many of his earlier works. The significance he places on these characteristic loops developed during the early 1950s over a series of trips he made with Robert Rauschenberg to Europe and Northern Africa. Fascinated by the graffiti he encountered inscribed on the walls of ancient monuments, Twombly embarked on a lifelong preoccupation with the connection between man's place in the world and the physical records of his presence. Intrigued by Leonardo da Vinci's studies of water since the early 1960s, Twombly appended a reproduction of a so-titled Deluge painting to a collaged work the year preceding Untitled. The obsessive and somewhat mystical quality of Leonardo's swirling lines, which informed all of Twombly's undulating loop paintings, attempted to trace the ephemeral continuum of the tempestuous movements in air and water. Encouraging his own sequential progression of looped lines, through repetition, Twombly adopted a lyrical momentum of his own in attempt to convey the same relentless, united, elemental flow of energy in his "blackboard" paintings.

Similar to Twombly's earlier compositions, which were founded on the musical theory of counterpoint, the rhythmical harmony of Untitled is brought to life by a symphony of unremarkable linear forms which dance across the canvas, recalling Palmer handwriting drills or Paul Klee's Pedagogical exercises. Twombly's incisive, idiosyncratic line expresses this flow as simultaneously continuing and fracturing, generating pervasive, dynamic, independent movement, caught up in a collective linear progression, caused by an irresistible, insistent and perpetual force. In this, the lasso-line paintings reflect the Italian Futurists' use of disjunction's dynamic rhythm to suggest motion, energy and simultaneity. Predating the advent of Fascist art and Stalinist Realism in the 1930s, the Futurists' motion studies remained largely untainted by recent political history. As such, they informed much of the new art in Italy in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Of particular relevance for Twombly were works like Umberto Boccioni's 1911 studies for States of Mind, and the resulting painting for States of Mind III: Those Who Stay and its charting of a contemporary psychological topography, as well as Giacomo Balla's many studies of air currents and the flight of birds--both which followed the example set in the 15th century by Leonardo.

Regardless of his indisputable Italian influences, Twombly found in the relative coolness of the dark-ground style an appropriate form of work to be further explored and exhibited in New York--the combined mixture of purity and severity found in his new aesthetic, compared to the sensual pleasures of the early 1960s, seemed more in line with the existing trends in America. Spending many nights sitting in the dark, letting his hand illustrate the lines he could not see, Twombly perfected his expressive, free-flowing loops. Allowing him to break the connection between the physical mark and the notion of representation, this process allowed Twombly's art to become recordings of feeling, emotion, experience, and life, rather than depictions or imitations of it. Each line, he says, is, "the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate--it is the sensation of its own realization" (C. Twombly, quoted in L'Esperienza moderna, no. 2, August-September 1957, p. 32). While the restrictive Minimalist aesthetic with elements of individual psychology and emotion recall the work of Eva Hesse, Bruce Nauman, and Richard Serra, the freedom of movement evokes the liberal energy of Jackson Pollock's action painting, while the all-over but low-pressure imagery is parallel to Jasper Johns grey paintings. Drawing from and relating to a disparate array of sources, Robert Pincus-Witten observes, "Handwriting has become for Twombly the means of beginning again, of erasing the Baroque culmination of the painting of the early 1960s...beautiful writing has been submerged within a Jasper Johns-like gray field. Put bluntly, it has been drowned in a schoolmaster's blackboard" (R. Pincus-Witten, "Learning to Write," 1968, in: Nicola del Roscio, (ed.), Writings on Cy Twombly, Munich, 2002, p. 56).

Constantly approaching the precipice of lexical recognition, with suggestions of conventional pictographs, figure eights, parabolic curves, and alphabetical letters, Twombly's looping lines are ultimately overruled by the physical and aesthetic properties of form. Yet, in the tracery of the curves linked at their bases, at the point where they branch out, sometimes a cipher can be seen, 'Cy.' Within these whirlpools, the obsessive whispers mutter that there is something which indissolubly links the genesis of painting and poetry, the artist's name.

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