May 2009, Cy Twombly @ Gagosian Gallery

Cy Twombly, The Rose, Installation View, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery


Cy Twombly: The Rose at Gagosian Gallery
6-24 Britannia Street
London WC1X 9JD
February 12 through May 9, 2009

Twombly often resembles more a poet than an artist in the traditional sense; his paintings and drawings always seem to include actual text or asemetic writing – that is, writing that cannot actually be “read,” in a literal way, but rather occupies a third terrain between writing and image, while remaining divorced from both.  

Although his name tends to evoke images of scribblings and splatterings on clean white canvas, his total output extends into a seemingly limitless horizon. An electrical turquoise forms the background of his most recent paintings, currently on view at the Gagosian in London (following his enormously successful retrospective last summer at the Tate Modern.) The vibrancy one finds on these huge canvases might alarm those accustomed to the austerity and restraint one typically finds in Twombly’s backgrounds, which allow for joyous and artfully callous explosions of color in the foreground. With Twombly’s latest series, “The Rose,” the painter, who recently turned 80, seems to be experiencing a second childhood – and his oeuvre is all the better for it.  

The roses are depicted in swirling swathes of color so bright and rich that you digest these paintings with your stomach as much as you perceive them through your eyes. Painful layers of bruised burgundy and cherry red battle the artificial sunshine of glorious tangerine and a yellow that nearly glows. The paint leaks down the canvas, as in the 2001 “Lepanto” series shown at the 49th Venice Biennale, causing the roses to bleed. Their blossoming is undone by their inherent liquidity.  

Twombly’s roses are meant to evoke those of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, whose texts are inscribed in Twombly’s signature scrawl on the right side of each canvas. “The Rose” is thus a collaboration between the artist and the deceased poet.  
While the rose is typically intended as a symbol for springtime, rejuvenation, and rebirth, for Rilke, it often had the opposite effect. Rilke believed that he would one day die of poisoning after being pricked by a rose thorn.  

Twombly’s cognizance of this double situation manifests itself in the beautiful torment of the enormous paintings. Through sheer burning color, life and death stand as relics of infusion in these works. Twombly, at an age when most artists are content to merely repeat past victories, has chosen to go onwards in the creation of a bold new symbolism. In so doing, we are able to witness, via “The Rose,” the rebirth of a poet and the dissolution of old and new.



Cy Twombly, The Rose (IV) (panel 3 of 4), 2008
Acrylic on plywood,
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Travis Jeppesen for Whitehot London

Travis Jeppesen's novels include The Suiciders, Wolf at the Door, and Victims. He is the recipient of a 2013 Arts Writers grant from Creative Capital/the Warhol Foundation. In 2014, his object-oriented writing will be featured in the Whitney Biennial and in a solo exhibition at Wilkinson Gallery in London. A collection of novellas, All Fall, is forthcoming from Publication Studio. 

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