One of only a small number of white ground paintings from Cy Twombly's famous "blackboard series", the present picture expresses a quiet lyricism and purity that seems more in tune with the Minimalist tendencies of Agnes Martin or Robert Ryman than with the dynamic gestures of Twombly's Abstract Expressionist forerunners. Allowing the soft swirling red crayon lines meander across thin layers of white, Twombly acts like a skywriter composing a free-form poem against the backdrop of infinite space.
Executed periodically between 1966 and 1971, Twombly's "blackboard" paintings are so named because they were inspired by the notion of the classroom blackboard or children's primer as a unique and highly graphic conveyer of information. Twombly adopted the immediacy and spontaneity of handwriting and the all-over painting of Pollock, spinning his lines of crayon across the large monochrome surface from left to right in continuous loops that suggest a language whose meaning has been lost in the drifts of time.
The repetitive circularity and sensitivity of the scrawl seem to suggest the free ruminations of Twombly's imagination and emotional responses, which in the first lines he tries to transcribe with controlled determination and near legibility, but ultimately breaks off in mid-sentence as though the painter has drifted away into incoherence. The gentle blur of the red crayon, retraced over ghosts of previously rubbed passages of "script", suggests the vagueness of memory and the distance of history.
Although obviously abstract - like a scribble or music, Twombly's blackboards are rooted in scientific reality. They are based on studies that chart the movement of airwaves and water currents, in particular Leonardo da Vinci's sketches for the Deluge, and his treatises on nature. They also reflect the influence of the Futurist artists Giacomo Balla and Umberto Boccioni's experiments with abstracted lines of force and motion.
Twombly's loops convey a sense of time and motion in a style that is loose and yet also measured. Though obsessively repeated, each scrawling loop is clearly different from all others, a unique mark that is a cyclical graphic record of its moment of creation and also a part of a continuous line whose dimensions are set by the rectangular boundaries of the canvas. In this way one can read the cursive flow of lines in the present picture as a poetic representation of the cosmic expanse, of the space-time continuum, as well as an overt demonstration of the artist as action painter, where movement and action are detailed with graphic fluidity.
Fig. 1 Jackson Pollock, Number 32, 1950, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf
Fig. 2 Umberto Boccioni, Study for States of Mind: Those Who Stay, 1911