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CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)
Untitled I
aquatint, on J Green English handmade paper, 1967, initialed and dated in pencil, numbered 'AP 4-5' (an artist's proof, the edition was nineteen), published by Universal Limited Art Editions, West Islip, New York, 1974, with their blindstamp, with full margins, in generally very good condition, framed
Image: 23 ½ x 28 1/8 in. (597 x 713 mm.)
Sheet: 27 ½ x 40 ½ in. (700 x 1030 mm.)
Bastian 10; Sparks 2

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Lot Essay

Cy Twombly’s output as a printmaker was slim and sporadic, especially when compared to those of his close friends and contemporaries Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Many of Twombly’s prints only came to fruition at the suggestion of publishers eager to include his work in a portfolio or at the urging of friends. Indeed, Twombly’s thirteen prints of the late 1960s alll resulted from a visit to the United Limited Art Editions workshop with Robert Rauschenberg. Before this trip in 1967, Twombly had only made five prints—three experimental monotypes in 1953 and two lithographs in 1960 published to accompany an exhibition of Twombly’s at Galleria La Tartaruga in Rome. Untitled I came out of a brief, but productive, collaboration with the printer Tatyana Grosman at ULAE. In 1967 and early 1968, Twombly executed plates for several small scale etchings, but the large and striking aquatints Untitled I and II were his most ambitious prints to date and his first foray in a more technically advanced printmaking procedure. Fine grain aquatint, a medium known for its ability to capture the tonal variety usually associated with watercolor or pastel, allowed Twombly to explore and vary his highly gestural and material artistic practice.
At the same time as his work at ULAE, Twombly produced a group of large-scale paintings on gray or black grounds. Collectively referred to as his grey paintings or blackboard paintings, this celebrated series of works made between 1966 and 1971 feature progressions of spiraling lines. These scrawled loops retain the gestures of writing and recall scribbles of chalk on a classroom blackboard or graffiti on public walls. However, these blackboard slates are mute, sounding out the frenetic graphic marks of artist, void of any cogent meaning. Roland Barthes would refer to Twombly’s canvases as “allusive field[s] of writing, that can be deciphered but not interpreted.”
In Untitled I, Twombly’s linear scribbles and calligraphic loops seem to dissolve into the printed ground, in a way recording the acid bite of the aquatint plate. Twombly’s painterly gestures are also rendered through the reversals of printed plate: the artist’s standard right-slanting scribbles are mirrored in the final print, and they appear to be carved out of the grey ground rather than superimposed upon it. The open-bite etching technique allowed for an expanded tonal range for Twombly’s calligraphic scrawls to emerge. Indeed, the aquatint plate can wear down and shift slightly between impressions. When ULAE began to pull impressions in 1974 for a printed edition (the plate was executed seven years earlier), Twombly’s loose graphic marks emerged with subtle distinctions between each impression. This masterful and rare example of Twombly’s work as a printmaker attests to the artist’s ceaseless exploration of the graphic act and the language of indecipherable.

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