Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Paintings I Like, pt. 70

Cy Twombly, Academy, 1955. Oil-based house paint, lead pencil, colored pencil, and crayon on canvas, 75" x 95."

Cy Twombly, Tiznit, 1953. White lead, oil-based house paint, wax crayon, and lead pencil on canvas, 54" x 75."

Cy Twombly died this past July, and he belonged to a somewhat special category of 20th-century painters that I've been thinking about quite a bit of late: painters who used the language of abstraction, but were not making Modernist paintings.

Taken as a group, they're styles were all over the map, but the common thread (at least in my mind) were refusals, either conscious or unconscious, to abide by one or more of the dogmatic aspects of Modernisn: purity, flatness, pictorial autonomy, utter abstraction, and so on. Feeling weighted down by these things doesn't seem like much of an issue today, but after Cubism and throughout much of the twentieth century, you were risking permanent obscurity with such an approach. Many artists who reached the end of their rope with Kantian purity either dropped abstraction, like Guston, or more commonly dropped painting altogether - many of the early minimalists, and video and performance artists started off as painters.

In Twombly, the language of Ab Ex is still plainly visible, but it's clear even on the most cursory examination that it's not Ab Ex - the calligraphic loops punctuated by bits of actual writing and bathroom graffiti, the strong reference to children's art, the chalkboards, the later flowers, and so on. It's a language not based on rejection of existing norms, but on the personalization of those norms.

Not surprisingly, many of the artists I'm thinking about either didn't live in New York, or, like Twombly, chose not to. In terms of advanced art in the middle of the twentieth Century, Italy (where Twombly spent much of his adult life) was tantamount to Gilligan's Island. But away from the chatter of the New York art community, he was able to develop this highly personal approach.

My roster and thesis for this special list of painters is still a developing entity, but rather that prepare a lengthy essay, I think I'm going to flesh it out a little at a time in the P.IL. series - check back for more.