Monday, August 27, 2007

Cy Twombly at the Tate Modern

One of my favorite cities in the world is London. There is something so charming and accessible about the city, perhaps because there is no language barrier, but also because of the great history of the city. Although there are so many wonderful historic sites and museums to visit, London is also very much a city of the 21st century. The combination of the old and the new is truly experienced when visiting one of the jewels of the London museum scene, the Tate Modern. Housed in a converted power plant, the Tate Modern is on the banks of the River Thames, and looks out to the magnificent skyline of London (and is directly across the river from St. Paul's Cathedral, Christopher Wren's masterpiece). Inside, the architecture of the place and the modern masterpieces of art that it houses make it the second most popular tourist destination in London.

On a recent trip to the Tate Modern in London, some of the most mesmerizing paintings I saw were the Four Seasons ("Quattro Stagioni") series by Cy Twombly. The tall canvases were created from 1993-94. The mood that the canvases capture is both beauty and the decline of beauty.

Born in 1928 at Lexington, Virginia, Cy Twombly studied art in Boston, New York and at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Twombly is known for his abstract paintings combining painting and drawing techniques, repetitive lines and the use of graffiti, letters and words. Not graffiti in the tradition of what you might find on the streets of urban American cities, but rather graffiti in the tradition of French contemporary artists.

Quattro Stagioni: Primavera 1993-4
"In each of the four paintings shown here, a different range of colours registers the changing light and temperature of the seasons. In this work, representing spring, a resurgence of energy after winter is depicted in a vertical arrangement of red curves and splashes of yellow. The curves relate to traditional Egyptian boats, which appear in a number of Twombly’s works, including a sculpture in this display. Primavera, the Italian word for spring, appears alongside passages of text that evoke happiness and hope." (From the Tate Modern web site)

Quattro Stagioni: Inverno 1993-4
"Quattro Stagioni celebrates the annual cycle of spring, summer, autumn and winter, and Twombly’s use of the four seasons to evoke the natural rhythms of death and rebirth is common in classical poetry and painting. Twombly uses strong colours to suggest the brilliant Mediterranean light and the essence of the different seasons, from vivid red and yellow in spring to deep greens and purples in autumn, combining these smears and drips of paint with scrawled poetic fragments, reminiscent of ancient graffiti, from several sources. While the lush, tactile qualities of the paint evoke bodily sensations, the poetry grounds these feelings in the broader context of classical culture. The curved forms that are visible in Primavera and Estate evoke traditional Egyptian rowing boats, imagery that appeared in Twombly’s work after he spent several months in Egypt during the mid 1980s." (From the Tate Modern web site)
Quattro Stagioni: Autunno 1993-4
"Deep reds and greens punctuated by vivid yellow evoke the turning point of the year which is also hinted at in the foliage, stems and berries that appear down the left-hand side of the canvas. The passages of text are harder to distinguish, although the words 'your blood' can be read at two points on the canvas.The artist's red handprint appears near the centre, as if marking his physical presence in the work. Twombly's vigorous approach turns the canvas into an arena for action: paint is pooled and dripped, encrusted, brushed in thin washes, and pushed about by bare hands." (From the Tate Modern web site)
Quattro Stagioni: Estate 1993-4
"Twombly's depiction of summer combines vivid splashes of liquid yellow on white with passages of lyrical poetry that emerge only to disappear again under layers of paint. The text is drawn from a poem by the Greek poet George Seferis. Although the poem is difficult to decipher, references to youth and the passage of time can be picked out. The painting also includes references to the Latin poet Catullus and to the shores of Asia Minor. Baia di Gaeta, towards the top of the canvas, refers to Twombly's home in Italy. "(From the Tate Modern web site)

This month, the work of Cy Twombly was on the cover of Veranda magazine.

Twombly was also in the news recently because a French woman kissed one of his paintings in a museum in Marseilles, France. She had on bright red lipstick, which stained the snowy white canvas. The painting was valued at over $2 million, and the woman was charged with damaging the painting.

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  1. Thanks for sharing. Must have been a wonderful trip!

  2. I would love to see Cy Twombly at the Tate Modern. I am a big fan and thought that this Veranda cover was one of the best. I have never been to the museum, but have wanted to go ever since I saw Match Point. Thanks for all of the great information.

  3. The Tate Modern is fantastic. I have been to London so many times, and had never visited the Tate Modern until this year! Their collection of contemporary art is among the best in the world.

    I have to admit, I don't normally 'get' Cy Twombly, but his Four Seasons canvases were really breathtaking in person (autumn is my favorite).

  4. hello, gorgeous. Thanks for introducing me too a new favorite. Cy's work is incredible.

    About London, I couldn't agree more about its accessibility. It is at once foreign and familiar. And I do believe it is clearly the shared language that opens our cultures up to one another.

    But back to Cy, thanks for featuring him. I'm smitten!

  5. Thanks for posting these images, I had not seen much of his work before. I have also not visited the Tate, although I have visited London once. There are some really cheap flights between HK and London so I'm tempted to go over again soon. I'd heard the Tate has a great collection of modern art, and my favorite all time painting is there (which I didn't know when I was last in London) - A Little Night Music, by Dorothea Tanning.

  6. Cy. Sigh.

    His paintings are so evocative and moving. Thank you for the rich narrative about the work featured here - and for sharing a portion of your experience at the TM (it IS a glorious place) with your readership.

  7. Hi - Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Suzy, I just checked out the painting by Dorothea Tanning. So interesting!

  8. I LOVE Cy Twombly! Thanks for sharing the photos from the Tate. I was lucky to see a great exhibit of his at the Whitney a few years ago and was blown away!

    And I agree with Brilliant Asylum about wanting to see the Tate Modern after seeing Match Point. It's the only museum in London I haven't made it to yet :-(

  9. Although I did not really like the movie Matchpoint, I loved the scenery...I watched it simply to see London in a movie! A few weeks ago, I wanted to do a post on the Belgravia home that the parents lived in, but could not find any. I even rented the movie to do screen shots, but there was never really a good view of the room as it is so long. Do you remember that room? Beautiful, in creams and yellows, with huge floor to ceiling windows.

  10. Too funny about the French Woman.
    I was once at a Ballet in Paris and the dancer was Nureyv and after the performance the French threw stuff at him on the stage and booed....I have no idea why they did that. But I am glad they fined this woman with the red lips!

  11. I came across this blod when i was doing research about cy twombly for my art project. Personally i love him! I had the chance to go to tate and was first introduced to him there. I saw his series of Quattro Stagioni. Before i had even read the snippet of info that Tate kindly offers, i knew it was the four seasons!
    I notice a lot of you have mentioned Match Point, i watched it for the first time a few weeks ago with my best friend and we both loved it!
    Did anyone spot the Piece of Banksy graffitti as he is walking under the bridge to thro the wedding ring into the river?
    My friend and I had to rewind just to check!


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