Cy Twombly was an artist, is an artist, whom I’ve long been aware of, but I never “got” him. Nevertheless, I always appreciated his creative project. The work is distinctive and ambitious. The handmade writing-like gestures in so much of the work exude a humane vibe. I like that aspect of it, and his use of strong colors. He kept making new things until he died this week at 83 years old. Back in the 1980s, when I was up to my eyeballs in contemporary art as the Lowell Public Art Collection was taking shape, I regularly encountered Cy Twombly’s drawings and paintings. I never delved into his work, but it was out there like one of the constellations in the present-day cultural universe.
Whether an abstract painting, a highly conceptual play, or atonal music, art isn’t something that you have to “get” in the first ten seconds of your encounter with it. Sometimes you have to spend time with it and make an effort to understand what is going on as a step toward appreciating the imaginative accomplishment. The Ladd & Whitney Monument in front of Lowell City Hall isn’t made of bronze likenessses of the soldiers being honored. It’s a stone obelisk, like the Washington Monument. We’ve come to understand that the combination of size, shape, material, location, etc. expresses an idea about sacrifice and honor and memory. We don’t even think about the fact that it isn’t a picture of the young men. We know the meaning.
Read Roberta Smith’s appreciation of Cy Twombly and his work in today’s NYTimes, and get the NYT if you want more. There’s a slideshow of his work on this linked page.