A right mess

Today I want to look at an artist who intrigues me and who I think offers us a handful of useful lessons.

 Cy Twombly, "Untitled," 1969

Cy Twombly, "Untitled," 1969

Cy Twombly, besides having the best name ever, was an American abstract expressionist who spent most of his adult life in Italy.  Google him for more info.

His paintings seem a complete mess, but as we all know, while the art critic's four-year-old can certainly scribble with the best of them, the four-year-old cannot create a sustained, sophisticated body of scribbles.

So I think there are four lessons we can take away from Twombly's work.

1. Just scribble

Scribble.  Scribbles are free.  Scribbles don't count.  Scribble some more. Do All The Scribbles.

Start to notice the right scribbles.

 "Herodiade," 1964.

"Herodiade," 1964.

2. Use whatever is at hand

Twombly made the painting above using oil-based housepaint, crayon, and graphite, aka pencil.

Got any of that lying around?

 "Untitled (Rome)," 1959

"Untitled (Rome)," 1959

3. Slam it together

I've seen Twombly's sculpture twice in real life, in Munich and in New York, and both times I was impressed with his ability to assemble obviously discarded items into some really totemic pieces.  Do go look at more of his pieces here.)

It makes me want to try the same thing in my own back yard. It seems simple enough: glue some things together, texture with plaster/gesso, paint it white.

Of course it's not that simple: there's always balance and rhythm and line and volume, all those regular art things, but again, trash is free.  You've already got the scrap pieces of lumber, the cardboard, the muslin, the twigs, the empty plastic bottles, right? 

It's just a matter of ABORTIVE ATTEMPT/GESTALT/SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION.  You know, the usual.

So slam it together.  Mess with it. Fix it.

4. Steal from the best

 "School of Athens," 1964

"School of Athens," 1964

Just as we are stealing from Twombly, he stole from the past as well.  Most of his work derived from his fascination with the ancient Greek/Roman literary world, and from the Italian Renaissance (which was definitely stealing from the best).

For example, why is this painting called "School of Athens"?  Because Twombly was directly copying/parodying this:

 Raphael, "The School of Athens," 1511

Raphael, "The School of Athens," 1511

Go thou and do likewise.

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