Untitled, 1956 represents Twombly's principle that the isolated line itself equals form and is the unequivocal determinant of the structures of action; each line insinuates the form of subsequent new lines.
As a painter in the early 1950s, Twombly was very much inspired by the innovative generation of the New York School. His first mature works were painted as a student at Black Mountain College, where he studied under Robert Motherwell and was a classmate and close friend of Robert Rauschenberg. These first paintings from 1951 closely resemble the black and white gestures of Franz Kline. By the end of 1951 and 1952, Twombly added biomorphic elements to the lines, creating the resemblance of living entities. Still working only in black and white, in 1953 Twombly added a new element to his canvases--sporadic horizontal lines of black wax crayon. These lines extend from the anthropomorphic armature of the boldly painted black contour lines recognizable from earlier works. In works such as Quarzazat and Volubilus, both from 1953, these quickly gestured, short vertical and horizontal lines appear to represent elements such as branches or hair, contrasting the underlying structures. In Tiznit, also from 1953, Twombly adds lead pencil to his medium, making these lines more refined as they expand in length and evolve in form. It is from these lines which Twombly's most mature work grew. However, it was in 1954 when "all relational aspects of solid objects had been disolved into the act of drawing" (H.Bastian Cy Twombly Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings Volume I 1948-1960, Munich 1992, p. 23). The graphite line becomes the most prominent element of Twombly's paintings from 1954-1956, evolving into spiral, circular, elongated configurations--indicating the remnants of letters, signs and landscapes.
Although Twombly did a series of paintings on thinly layered black grounds in 1955, his "white" paintings of that year and 1956 proved to represent his most ambitious work to date. In this period his surfaces developed "dense variegated surfaces with multiple layers of paint: pencil and crayon lines and colorless scumbling with a blunt stylus are worked into and against the viscosity of the cream field" (K. Varnedoe, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, New York 1994, p. 23). This aesthetic, tentatively refined into greater spareness and abstract severity during the relatively fallow year of 1956, was one Twombly took with him to Rome in 1957" (ibid., p. 25).
Untitled, 1956 is at the pinacle of Twombly's American paintings. Originally conceived as an element of a sculpture project, along with three other horizontally configured "white" paintings, Untitled is a successful example of how the artist innovatively executed his ideals of line as form. The surface is beautifully subtle. Created with oil based house paint applied in varying layers, the ground is composed of translucent veils of white, beige and gray. Across the top center, his aggressive lines are incised into the painting's surface and flow gracefully from one end of the horizontal plane to the other; and below this field are intimate impressions made by the artist's fingers, free flowing with affection. "He executes these graphics in pencil [and wax crayon] . . . Without the regular breaks associated with the dipping of the brush, the lines move freely, as if they were following their own impulses. Every line is thus the actual experience with its unique story. It does not illustrate; it is the perception of its own realization" (K. Schmidt, et.al., Cy Twombly, Houston 1990, pp.10-11).