“My line is childlike but not childish” – Cy Twombly
Upon entering the grey concrete block of a building, known as the Cy Twombly Gallery, you are immediately transported to a world where Twombly’s bright colors and quick continuous marks are the only form of life. The Cy Twombly Gallery is a part of the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. The entire collection and museum consists of multiple buildings, placed along a neighborhood street that also houses the Rothko Chapel, and the Byzantine Fresco Chapel. John and Dominique de Menil founded the collection in 1987, a collection that consists of works by artists such as Duchamp, Matisse, Picasso, Warhol, and Pollock. Though the collection holds a multitude of incredible pieces, the de Menils decided to add a gallery to the neighborhood, adjacent to the main building. They dedicated this gallery to Cy Twombly, selecting over 30 important works of his (from 1953-1994) and inaugurating the gallery in 1995. Though his own personal gallery only came to be in 1995, Twombly had entered into the New York art scene in the 1950s, making a name for himself and introducing his style to go along with that name.
Twombly has a distinct graffiti like style to his work that he would spread across large-scale canvases. The meticulous use of paint and markings shows through the many layers each canvas holds. His style, in some paintings and drawings, can tend to look spastic, with the spontaneous addition of words or scratches on the canvas; however, every tiny mark Twombly made was placed there for a reason. Twombly painted, drew, and sculpted, so the gallery consists of all mediums, showing his wide array of talents as well as allowing the viewer to compare Twombly’s works to one another. The building itself is as simple as can be, with white walls, a cement exterior, and no written explanations of any of the works. Because the gallery holds works made throughout his life, the eight rooms that make up the gallery each represent a different style of the artist’s work, allowing the viewer to see the transitions and processes Twombly went through. Though all of Twombly’s pieces share a certain style, each series has its distinctions and conveys new meanings.
When walking into the gallery, amongst the stark white walls that create a sort of labyrinth, you first come across a room paneled by Twombly’s earlier “Blackboard Paintings.” The greenish black paint that covers these large scale canvases are drawn over with white, continuous loops, resembling chalk. Though this series is not my favorite of his works, I believe that the cursive-like gestures put you in the right mindset to experience Twombly’s work and the transitions between his series of pieces. Staring at the repeated loop, trying to decipher words or meanings is a similar experience to looking at Twombly’s later paintings, trying to make something out of the etchings and swirls of color. Those other paintings, consisting of marks, scratches, and globs of beautifully colored paint, are in the rooms coming off of that center room, as if to show the basis from which those paintings came from. As you move from the center room to the wings of the gallery, you become surrounded by three attached canvases, 53 feet long, spread across the wall. The piece, “Untitled (Say Goodbye Catallus, to the Shores of Asia Minor),” takes up the largest space in the gallery, reading like a Chinese story, from right to left. Perhaps due to how it ecompasses the viewer, this piece is one of my favorites in the gallery. Looking and inspecting the piece at a distance, I automatically see a story, but when my face is an inch away from the piece, staring at a specific mark, I see a story within a story. Twombly meant for this piece to read as a story, but without even needing to inform the viewer, one instantly reads the canvas. The idea that Twombly created a story that speaks to the viewer through paint and marks alone shows his accomplishment as an artist.
Because of the scale of Twombly’s paintings, it is easy to get lost in the intricate detail. When looking closely at his pieces, you can see the multiple layers of paint, scratches, marks, and glimpses of colors that do not appear again. These are the details that are the hidden messages, that add another layer to the piece and to the story the piece is telling. I could stand in front of one of Twombly’s pieces for hours because of the sole fact that I can look at the piece as a whole, or inspect every inch of the canvas individually and take away something different.
Through this gallery, you can see the process he went through as an artist and where it took him. The freedom and mysticism I experience when looking at Twombly’s art is created by a man who knew what he was doing when he made every etching, finger mark, and color on those canvases. He said it himself that “You would think you could get away with placing a mark on such a big painting that wasn’t quite right, but it’s not possible; it affects everything.”