Edwin Parker (Cy) Twombly, Jr. (born April 25, 1928) is an American artist well known for his large-scale, freely scribbled, calligraphic-style graffiti paintings, on solid fields of mostly gray, tan, or off-white colors. He exhibits his paintings worldwide.
Twombly paintings blur the line between drawing and painting. Many of his best-known paintings of the late 1960s are reminiscent of a school blackboard on which someone has practiced cursive "e"s. His paintings of the late 1950s, early 1960s might be reminiscent of long term accumulation of bathroom graffiti. Twombly had at this point discarded painting figurative, representational subject-matter, citing the line or smudge — each mark with its own history — as its proper subject.
Later, many of his paintings and works on paper moved into "romantic symbolism", and their titles can be interpreted visually through shapes and forms and words. Twombly often quoted the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, as well as many classical myths and allegories in his works. Examples of this are his Apollo and The Artist and a series of eight drawings consisting solely of inscriptions of the word "VIRGIL".
Twombly lives in Lexington, Virginia and Italy.
Twombly's father, also nicknamed "Cy" after the baseball great Cy Young, pitched for the Chicago White Sox.
Twombly studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. From 1950 to 1951, he studied at the Art Students League of New York, where he met Robert Rauschenberg, who encouraged him to attend Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina. At Black Mountain in 1951 and 1952 he studied with Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell and Ben Shahn, and met John Cage.
The Kootz Gallery in New York organized Twombly's first solo exhibition in 1951. At this time his work was influenced by Kline's black-and-white gestural expressionism, as well as Paul Klee's imagery. In 1952, Twombly received a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which enabled him to travel to North Africa, Spain, Italy, and France.
Upon his return in 1953, Twombly served in the army as a cryptologist, an activity that left a distinct mark on his artistic style. From 1955 to 1959, he worked in New York, where he became a prominent figure among a group of artists including Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. In 1959, Twombly went to Italy, settling permanently in Rome. It was during this period that he began to create his first abstract sculptures, which, although varied in shape and material, were always coated with white paint, which he later called his 'marble'. In Italy, he began to work on a larger scale and distanced himself from his former expressionist imagery.Twombly was invited to exhibit his work at the Venice Biennale in 1964. In 1968, the Milwaukee Art Museum mounted the first retrospective of his art. The artist has also been honored by retrospectives at the Kunsthaus Zürich in 1987, the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, in 1988, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1994, with additional venues in Houston, Los Angeles, and Berlin. The Cy Twombly Gallery of the Menil Collection in Houston, which was designed by Renzo Piano and opened in 1995, houses more than thirty of Twombly's paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, dating from 1953 to 1994. A large collection of Twombly's work is also kept by the Museum Brandhorst and the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich.
A recent (1998-1999) Twombly work, Three Studies from the Temeraire, a triptych, was purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales for $4.5 million AUD in 2004.