July 6th 2011

Post-war artist Cy Twombly dies at 83

Celebrated American painter Cy Twombly died in Rome on Tuesday, announced the Gagosian Gallery.

The post-World War II artist was best known for his large scale works, often featuring his signature graffiti-like engravings on large solid canvases of grey, white, brown, and other neutrals.

He was 83.

The cause of his death is not specifically yet known, although Twombly did suffer from cancer.

A mix of Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism, Conceptualism, and Minimalism, Twombly’s work was a distinct convergence from other artists at the same time. He was influential among many artists, in spite of being shadowed under the names of forerunners who led each movement on their own.

Twombly was born Edwin Parker Twombly Jr. in Lexington, Virginia, in 1928. Taking his father’s nickname, Cy, he was a student of a number of US art colleges, then he travelled throughout Europe and was later influenced by his service as a cryptologist in the US military.

He permanently moved to southern Italy in the late 50s. He wasn’t keen on living a life in the public eye, and ignored his critics, who tried to drive him toward the front of 20th century abstract work. He was inspired by a life-long association with Europe’s history and culture, and later regarded as a key figure among artists who wanted to evolve beyond abstract expressionism.

Twombly’s paintings are complex, minute details, with scratches, markings , drips, sketches, and fragments of random words (both Italian and classical), and images (both crude and clean).

He started to drift away from expressionism in the mid-60s, after his work was shown at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in 1964. Perhaps a low-point, artist and writer Donald Judd, known to lack acceptance of painting in general, called the show a fiasco.

Twombly soon started working on abstract sculptures that most knew him best for.

“I had my freedom and that was nice,” he said in a rare interview with Tate director Nicholas Serota in 2008, during an important exhibition of his work in decades.

Fiasco no more, younger artists soon found Twombly’s work inspiring, bringing forth new attention and positive reviews. Museums and collectors began to come forward, and in 1989, the Philadelphia Museum of Art opened permanent rooms dedicated to his monumental 10-painting cycle, “Fifty Days at Iliam,” based on Alexander Pope’s translation of the “Iliad.”  That same year, Twombly’s work passed the million-dollar mark at auction, and in 1995 the Menil Collection in Houston opened a new gallery dedicated to his art.

Cy Twombly, who had been living in Italy, was hospitalized in Rome last week.

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Andrew loves art and design, and pursues his studies in his final year at the Ontario College of Art and Design. He loves seeking out new artists and giving them their dues, and in his spare time, focuses on his own abstract sculpture.