art show

twombly: the beauty of consistency

Did you know Twombly made such colourful work? It came as a lovely surprise to me.

Did you know Twombly made such colourful work? It came as a lovely surprise to me.

The beauty of travel is the random discoveries you make. If I’m only in Paris for a week in April, I’m going to see whatever big show is at the Pompidou, regardless of the artist. But I certainly lucked out when the artist of the moment turned out to be Cy Twombly.

While this may be sacrilegious to my many artist friends who adore Twombly, I had no strong feelings about him going in. I had seen an exhibit of his drawings in Tokyo and enjoyed it. But a retrospective really allows you to understand the whole of an artist’s work and that whole is very impressive. This show had his drawings, paintings, sculpture, and photography. In addition, I got to go twice, which gave me even more opportunity to explore the details of the work. And I emerged a big Twombly fan!

The Work

First off, what is impressive about Twombly’s work is how early he came to making the loose marks that exemplify all his work. That consistency is impressive. There was one small room with oil pastel scribbles on graph paper. Honestly, these drawings are exactly what people would describe as being “something my kid could do.” And seen in isolation, they are unimpressive. But seen in the context of a decades-long career of making similar scribbles, the drawings become impressive. The restraint, the colour choices, the directional lines—every decision is the seed for the magnificent paintings that follow.

Another highlight was the Roman paintings made after his marriage to Luisa Tatiana Franchetti. They were huge complex canvases and one had the sexiest description I’ve ever seen in a museum: “Between 1960 and 1962 he produced some of his most sexual paintings, Empire of Flora being an evocative example. Partial glimpses of body parts, male and female, are scattered over canvases that seem to preserve the sensual memory of hot Roman nights.” Hot Roman nights! I’d like to meet the art historian who wrote that. Maybe it was only the translated French version of the show. Or maybe it’s the beginning of game show: Gallery notes or porn film title?

My favourite paintings in the show were Nine Discourses on Commodus. These nine beautiful paintings seemed to evolve between panels and showed many of Twombly’s regular marks: grids, words, loose paint strokes, mixed media. I spent a long time appreciating all the little details of the work. Shockingly, these paintings were not well received when he first exhibited them in 1964, but they still look gloriously contemporary.

There too many highlights in the show to list them all. But it was the first time I had seen his sculpture: found object assemblages coated in white paint and the occasional drip of beautiful colour. And his delicate photographs which focus on blurred objects and decay. Or the bright canvasses shown at the top of this post. And I’m grateful for the serendipity of travel which allowed me to really discover Twombly.

The first painting I fell in love with...

I can remember the first original painting I fell in love with. I was about nine and we were visiting friends of my parents, and the woman was a painter who did glamourous watercolour paintings of women, in a style I'd now call Paris when it Sizzles. The one I liked best had a woman in a flowing turquoise dress, a wine glass balanced on a café table and her hair swaying flirtatiously to one side. They had no children for me to play with, and I must have spent much of the evening admiring her artwork. When we went to leave, the woman gave me a look that was half skeptical and half proud. “Do you really like this?” she asked, and I nodded, still transfixed. She removed the painting from its frame and handed it to me. I was astounded and thanked her. I took it back to my room and hung it up there, continuing to admire it for many years.

Although we had a lot of original art in our house, it was the first time I realized that paintings could be about a subject that interested me. I was young and the painting reminded me of my glamourous Barbie doll catalogues. I was less interested in the landscapes and abstractions in our house, especially since I realize now that my mother preferred palettes of earth colours like avocado green, mustard and brown, all colours I hate to this day. I think the inspiration from that painting carried through for years, as I drew multiple women and even took a class in fashion illustration. To this day, I still paint flowing, wide-skirted dresses.

So from this humble beginning, I do realize the importance that a single painting can have in the life of a child. Start with Art is an art show I have been involved since it began, and it provides the chance for a child to buy a professional painting at a very reasonable price. In fact, you have to be a child (under 16) to even make a purchase at the show!  Sarah Cavanaugh, the new curator at the Seymour Art Gallery, has taken exactly the right approach to the show, striving to get the best possible artists to participate. Ross Penhall and Peter Kiss are both involved, and Ross Penhall's very valuable painting will be in a draw that anyone can participate in.
Artists love to support this show because they understand the importance of art for children.  In the early days of the show, one artist told me, “I want to paint something important that will inspire the kids!” It’s not all about cute art that talks down to kids, but rather real paintings that kids can take from their rooms at home to their first apartment.

Having set this rather lofty goal, I have to admit I still like to do representational paintings for the show, since I think it’s what the kids prefer. I’ve painted hockey equipment, various animals and of course, dresses. This year it’s cats. I’m experimenting with layering, so I’ve created a complex process: first an abstract background on paper, mounted it on board and then painted a cat silhouette on glass and reversed the glass into the frame.

A usual, a picture is worth a thousand words:

So, Start with Art opens on Tuesday, May 1. Here are all the details. If you have kids in your life, I recommend taking them. I'll be there, and more importantly, there will be candy and popcorn. 

Tomorrow, I'll post the first paintings you fell in love with, with the responses to the April contest.