Cy Twombly - Master of "Romantic Symbolism"

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If you haven't come across the work of Cy Twombly you're definitely missing out. He is by far one of my favorite artists that I found early on in my young art career, very first semester of my first masters program at Eastern Illinois University. Back then (fall of 2007 actually!) it's hard to believe that not a lot of people knew about Twombly's work except in Europe for decades. He was part of the generation of Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauchenburg and Jasper Johns but did not soar to fame here in the US because he choose to live out the rest of his life in Italy starting in 1957. You could argue that just in the past decade or so, Cy Twombly has now gained his well-deserved popularity in the US and of course is appreciated all over the world. But I would say that the mass population now is starting to recognize his work, not just among the art world elite.

You've probably seen his work because I see so much of his work exploding through all these social media channels we have available (especially Pinterest because his work is so vividly colorful and expressive), but perhaps you didn't make the connection that it was him.

I first came across his work while doing a paper on him for an art history class in my first master's at Eastern Illinois University. I instantly was fascinating by his vast vocabulary of mark making. His earlier work in the 1950's was inspired by all the grafitti found all over Rome. He is also part of the generation that used massive mural-like canvases to paint imposing themselves on the viewer almost as if we could step into his world. Later on in life, specifically in the 90's, he was fascinated by the motif of the flower symbolizing birth, life and decay. He has also been known for his extensive work in photography and sculpture but of course his paintings are what has fascinated most of his fans.

You can read a TON about his work all over the internet. He used to be much harder to find but now it's just everywhere. He was fascinated all his life by great works of literature (ancient and modern), ancient history, symbolism, myths and poetry. But as a student of a visual medium, I personally keep going back and back to his artwork because I love his compositions, his freedom in his expression, his soulful motifs that are timeless and his ability to portray his thoughts/ideas or a prose or a phrase in such a poetically abstract way. But he also focused on the process of writing. Many of his works are inspired by writing, scribbles and doodles but they don't convey any direct meaning.

To see some of his larger works in person is pretty spectacular. You can really feel his frenzied brushwork that he is known for and the richness and depth of his layering. Some of his larger works are presented in a series of canvases stretching over walls.

I think one of my favorite quotes that have really stuck with me through the years is when Twombly is interviewed, he remarks that he never really ever though of himself as an "artist":

I mean when it does come, it's natural. I don't force it, which would be in those periods when it's kind of barren. I'm not a professional painter, since I don't go to the studio and work nine to five like a lot of artists. When something hits me, or I see a painting, or when I see something in nature, it gives me a thing and I go for it. But I don't care if I don't go for three or four months. You know, when it comes it comes.

I love that. Throughout his life he rarely took any interviews and wasn't in the spotlight like some of his other contemporaries that were given so much US press. To read an interview with his is like mining for gold because he seemed to allow them more when he got older. But here I love that he matter-of-factly refutes a massive stereotype of artists - that we think of them as slaving away day in and day out to make their creations. Certainly sometimes the process is that labor-some. But personally, going through art school especially, I instantly connected with this statement. I never have been able to go into my studio from "9-5" everyday and just work consistently either. It has been encouraging to note that sometimes it doesn't work that way. Sometimes you think for months, maybe years and contemplate and then it just "comes out" in 20 minutes.

Writing this post certainly reminds me to go back to his work and look through and get inspired again.

I liked this article about Twombly's "Key Ideas" in his works

Carolyn Quartermaine

Carolyn Quartermaine I recently discovered Carolyn Quartermaine, , an inspiring and talented British stylist and artist, and even though I realized I had recognized her gorgeous prints and fabrics in various home magazines, I didn't make the connection it her until over five years ago when working on my MFA thesis. She only has a couple books devoted to her work and it seems they are already out of print which is very frustrating. But I ended up finding a used copy of Carolyn Quartermaine Revealed by Kate Constable. The photographs are stunning and I love how the book is organized into her various practices: fabrics, paper, collage, color, painting, etc. Carolyn QuartermaineWhen looking at her work I saw kindred spirit when it comes to process and attraction to the very act of painting and the materials of painting. Here are a few quotes from the book.

" . . . I always get a thrill when I first put my brush into the liquid and begin to paint. The process is so wonderful that hte actual result seems of little or no importance compared to the act of loading the brush with paint and moving it across the paper or fabric. Paint is so much about possibility, about creating worlds, about layering, texture, and surface. But mostly it is about that physical process of dipping your brush, or maybe, just your hands, into this pool of wet, dripping colour." (p. 101).

I've always been interested in painting on fabric and 5 years ago, I started painting on tablecloths bought at a local discount household store when in my MFA program. I have always loved to paint on chairs (like the chair collections in Restoration Hardware), Quartermaine paints on luxurious silks! And also paints beautiful chairs and finishes them, etc.

Carolyn QuartermaineQuartermaine went through art school so her background is more of an "artist" than a traditional textile designer. Her approach is very art-based which also is very attractive to me about her work. But she moves so easily between art, design and even the "decorative" seamlessly, that it really doesn't matter to me the purpose of her work, it all has a fluidity and all about process that clearly evokes her love of color, texture, paint and layering. There is a delicate, soft texture to her work, it is careful but allows spontaneity and I can see that she admires the imperfect print or brushwork. It is much more careful then my own work (I just don't have that much patience!). But the watercolor look, the print and the experimentation with paint, ink and fabric is what has always attracted me to her work as an inspiration to my own.

"A good wall has the same spellbinding quality as a Twombly or a Rothko painting for me. I love the mottled marks, the mould, the flaking caused by pollution, the scratch marks of the graffiti. I am drawn to a feeling of time passing, of that feeling that paint has been built up over the years and then has been worn away again, either by chance, or by the weather, or by intent. What is revealed underneath the paint is as interesting as the texture of the paint that is left behind. I photograph walls like that endlessly. In fact, walking around Rome, I sometimes feel that I want to take the walls home and hang them in my apartment, like a painting." (p. 110-111).

You can definitely see the influences from Twombly and Rothko in her work (I'm obsessed with Twombly! I wrote my first MFA thesis on his work!). But the end of the quote struck me because I found I was drawn to these exquisite textures in Italy myself when I visited in 2009 (see a few of my photos). I mean, who isn't when they visit Rome? The inspiration is literally on every single wall in the ancient city.


"For [Quartermaine], the thrill comes in trying to controll the uncontrollable. All these paints behave differently. 'It is so exciting to have these jars and tubes of fabulous, intense colour around you. But what comes out of those jars of orange and blue or green is even more magical. The way the colours seep into each other, bleed into each other, is stunning. And you are always there watching, watching all the time, trying to control the wash of colour."' (p. 112).

"With paint, it's all about controlling accidents, knowing when to pull back and when to let the paint do what it wants to do." (p. 113).

I LOVE these quotes - putting into words exactly how I feel about the process of painting.

Here's a youtube video of an interview with Quartermaine.

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