This work will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of Cy Twombly--Works on paper being prepared by Nicola Del Roscio.
In 1957, Twombly returned to Rome, a city he favored during his previous visits to the Mediterranean and Europe that shaped his early career. Although artists in New York in the early 1960s who gave rise to Pop Art and Minimalism may have appeared as a more obvious choice of peers for Twombly, his time in Italy had an indelible impact on the artist's work. There, he studied the works of Renaissance masters such as Raphael and Botticelli as well as classical Greece which led to Twombly's increased command of pictorial space.
This present work displays Twombly's interest, not in simply contemplating a subject, but in how one contemplates a subject, specifically perception and fluctuating physical states. Twombly's seemingly elusive concepts are best represented by his own unique style, one which was cultivated early in his career. Having attended Black Mountain Collage at the urging of Robert Rauschenberg, Twombly was exposed to artists such as Robert Motherwell, the photographer Aaron Siskind and Franz Kline. Robert Motherwell foresaw Twomby's uniqueness, when he wrote in a 1951 Chicago exhibition catalogue:
I believe that Cy Twombly is the most accomplished young painter whose work I happen to have encountered: he is a "natural" in regard to what is going on in painting now. His painting process, of which the pictures are the tracks that are left, as when [one] walks on a beach, is org[i]astic: the sexual character of the fetishes half-buried in his violent surface is sufficiently evident (and so is not allowed to emerge any more). Yet the art in his painting is rational, often surprisingly simply symmetrical and invariably harmonious. (Katz, Vincent, and Martin Brody. Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2002. Print.)
Exposure to this generation of artists allowed Twombly to develop his own form of expressionism, one that is highly emotional and draws on intense and personal passions. His artwork is composed of very physical calligraphic gestures, allowing the viewer to witness the spontaneous manner in which Twombly worked. The artist employs the same rich rhythmic technique that is so evident in his paintings to his works on paper, so much that the distinction between the two is virtually non existent. While Autoritratto (Self-Portrait) Rome is composed almost entirely of sweeping curvatures, the colors and movement found in the lines allow the viewer to vividly see an intimate and rare portrayal of the artist. Drawn on November 24, 1963, two days following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, perhaps the portrait reflects on the sadness and loss of a young man living in a country that was not his own, as well as an emotional portrait of the tumultuous time we were soon to encounter.
Each line now is the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate - it is the sensation of its own realization. The imagery is one of the private or separate indulgencies rather than an abstract totality of visual perception. (Twombly, quoted in K. Varnedoe (ed.), Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, exh. cat., New York 1994, p. 27).