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Posts Tagged ‘Cy Twombly’

Reading Cy Twombly

September 16, 2016 | by

These images, selected from my book Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint, indicate the range and provocation of Cy Twombly’s works on canvas and paper, pointing especially to his inventive use of literary quotation and allusion throughout his long career and his relation to poetry as an inspiration for his art.



George Seferis, “Three Secret Poems,” in M. Byron Raizis, Greek Poetry Translations: Views, Texts, Reviews (Athens: Efstathiadis, 1983), 164–65; copy marked by Cy Twombly. Reproduced courtesy Alessandro Twombly. Photo: British School at Rome.

Twombly’s working copy of a paperback translation of Three Secret Poems, by the twentieth-century Greek poet George Seferis, shows his hands-on approach to quotation and revision as well as paint stains from his work in progress. A number of marked passages reappear in Twombly’s paintings of the mid-1990s, notably in Quattro Stagioni (1993–94) and Say Goodbye, Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor (finally completed in 1994).

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Distant Hammers

February 4, 2016 | by

Notes on art and apocalypse.

From Patrick Reed’s “Distant Hammers.”

How will the end come? Did it already come? Did we miss it? That we can ask this last question shows just how far our current mood of millenarianism has traveled from its antecedents in the distant and not-so-distant past. As late as Eliot, poets and prognosticators assured us that we would recognize “how the world ends.” Most visions of apocalypse were spectacular, sublime. The possibility that we have instead whimpered our way into some kind of boiling-frog scenario—marked by slow but irreversible global warming, mass human displacement, and a gradually perceptible slide toward famine, disease, war, and extinction—is a radical departure from the convulsive display we’d long been promised.

The first properly apocalyptic writings in the monotheistic tradition are the books of Joel and Zechariah, two of the twelve minor prophets in the Tanakh, or Jewish canon. Joel, whose account may date to the reign of King Josiah, around 800 B.C., and who may therefore be the oldest prophet, begins by describing a coming locust infestation, which he claims will be coincident with famine and widespread misery. The lament transforms into a hallucinogenic description of locusts as God’s army (“the increasing locust, the nibbling locust, the finishing locust, and the shearing locust”), of a fire that consumes the world, and of a day of thick darkness “like the dawn spread over the mountains.” The more famous book of Daniel follows approximately in this mold, albeit with new messianic trappings. Read More »

Cy Twombly, the JACK, and the Morgan Library

July 2, 2015 | by

JACK Quartet

On November 24, 2014, the JACK Quartet performed Matthias Pintscher’s Studies for Treatise on the Veil in a gallery at the Morgan Library, in New York, before a thirty-three-foot-long painting by Cy Twombly called Treatise on the Veil (Second Version). Pintscher’s score was written in response to Twombly’s painting; Twombly’s painting was composed in response to music, that of French composer Pierre Henry, a pioneer of musique concrète. Members of the JACK were, in turn, influenced that evening by their very proximity to Twombly’s painting: “The music requires so much concentration,” said violist and director John Pickford Richards, “and I felt that the painting was giving me concentration while we were playing.”

Chapter six of our series “Big, Bent Ears” details this curious network of connections, which Richards calls a “daisy chain of beautiful responses.”

Here’s another one: Before the Morgan exhibition, Twombly’s painting hadn’t hung in New York since 1985, and Pintscher’s composition had never been performed alongside the painting. And no one had ever filmed a concert at the Morgan Library. Rock Fish Stew’s video of that evening, which is part of chapter six, is witness to this extraordinary confluence and is itself an element of it. Twombly called his Treatise on the Veil (Second Version) “a time line without time,” which is rather like a story without a beginning, middle, and end. Or, as the “Big, Bent Ears” team likes to think of it, serializing uncertainty and reveling in digressions.


Big, Bent Ears, Chapter 6: Treatise on the Veil

June 25, 2015 | by


Cy Twombly Sr., back row, far left, with the swim team he coached at Washington & Lee University. From the 1950 W&L yearbook, Calyx. Photograph courtesy of the Special Collections & University Archives, Washington and Lee University

In the sixth chapter of “Big, Bent Ears,” Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty,” the pair turn their gaze to Lexington, Virginia, where Cy Twombly was born in 1928; he grew up four blocks from Stonewall Jackson’s grave, though you wouldn’t know it to roam the town today. “A primary problem in biography,” they write, ‘is that a subject’s formative years are the least documented and the least available. Twombly is no different; the boy and young man are difficult to find, difficult to feel.” As they get a sense of the town and Twombly’s history there, their research leads them to a meditation on his famous painting, Treatise on the Veil (Second Version), and the connection between its sense of tragedy and Twombly’s roots in Virginia. First, though, they find a note on his high-school yearbook photo:

Tall, dark, and very outstanding—Cy is really one of the boys. He’s the only one of our class to have gained state-wide recognition (with his educated brush). Unlike many of us, he’s often seen with some weighty volume on a deep subject, and is well acquainted with the best in music—long-hair stuff, see? We know we’ll have even more reason to be proud of you, Cy.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.

On the Shelf

July 6, 2011 | by

Photograph by Michael Stravato.

A cultural news roundup.

  • Artist Cy Twombly died this week at eighty-three.
  • Newly revealed letters point to the existence of unpublished Salinger manuscripts.
  • People do, in fact, give a damn about an Oxford comma.
  • The best party game of all time gets its due.
  • Hemingway's remains one of the iconic American deaths. He has come close to being remembered as much for his death as for his work, a terrible fate for a writer.”
  • Penguin launches an app.
  • For the first time, documents from the Vatican’s secret archives will go on view.
  • Hang onto those proofs!
  • When they’re good, they're very, very good: the Mobys celebrate the best and worst in book trailers.
  • “You should not have idle hands, you should always be working. All your life.” And other words of wisdom from Chekhov.
  • No rabbits were harmed in the making of As You Like It.