Further on Down the Line: Cy Twombly: ‘Last Pictures’, Gagosian, Britannia Stret, London.

Cy Twombly: ‘Untitled (Camino Real II), 2011. Acrylic on Canvas, 252 x 187 cm

Britannia Street is in refurbished Victorian warehouse land, near three major London railway stations. The architectural fantasy of the London Midland Hotel in front of St Pancras station and the lesser glories of Kings Cross and Euston; machines made for moving goods from here to there, for making money by relocating materials.

The gallery is a whitewashed box with polished grey concrete floors. Important men in preppy American clothes, slightly too young for them, boss about the inevitable blonde young women sitting on reception. Eight rectangular paintings are symmetrically arranged on the walls, red and yellow gestural marks in looping dripped paint on a vivid light green background. In traditional imagery these are rich colours their combination could suggest the glories of a late summer, the warmth of the sun, wealth of the earth and the fecundity of nature; is that the case here? The yellow is semi-transparent and makes orange where it lays against the red, but against that flat artificial green any depth, pictorial or metaphorical, dies away.

The marks then: in some of the paintings they are similar to handwriting, familiar from much earlier Twombly series, ‘Quattro Stagioni’ from 1993-5 for example.

Cy Twombly: ‘Quattro Stagioni: Estate’, 1993-5. Acrylic and Graphite on Canvas. 314 x 215 cm. Tate, London.

But the long repeated loops look closer to the Bacchus paintings from 2005 onwards, the loopings of practice examples that come before fully competent script.

Cy Twombly: ‘Untitled (Bacchus Series)’, 2006-8. Acrylic on Canvas.

The Camino Real gestures are quick, un-sensual. The flat acrylic paint has a slight industrial sheen, all painted with the same thickness of brush, 4 inches at a guess. There is evidence of re-painting, the green covering earlier red loops in some works. They are sections, the marks are not contained within their rectangles, they appear cut out from a larger surface. Any sense of movement and joy that one could find in those earlier paintings seems to be negated here by the aggressive verticals of the dripped red against the green background.

Cy Twombly: ‘Untitled (Camino Real IV), 2011. Acrylic on Canvas, 252 x 187 cm

We are made insistently aware by the gallery that these where Twombly’s last works, and therefore all the implications that might follow. The paintings avoid melancholy although there is a certain weary aggression about them all. Should we therefore be making comparisons with the notional purple period that signals an artist’s last resolution of painterly form, before he goes to the great Private View in the sky to swap prices and studio talk with the greats? After the Turner/ Monet/ Twombly show the useful comparison would be with the late work of these earlier manipulators of semi abstract paint surfaces. In the Camino Real Series do we see the final self-editing that leads to, for example Monet’s ‘Japanese Footbridge’ series

Claude Monet: ‘The Japanese Footbridge’, 1920-23, Oil on Canvas, 90 x 116 cm, MOMA, New York.

or Turners ‘Sun Setting Over a Lake’? 

JMW Turner: ‘Sun Setting over a Lake’, c1840, Oil on Canvas, 107 X 138 cm Tate, London

Twombly’s ‘Hero and Leandro’ triptych would, I suggest, fit this trope well.

Cy Twombly: ‘Hero and Leandro. Part 1’, 1985, Oil on Canvas, 202 x 254 cm.

These paintings at the Gagosian sadly, are thin, tired and peevish in comparison; the more probable descent into old age for us mere mortals. In this efficient and clinical space, around these eight paintings the modern mechanics who separate cash from materials continue their ceaseless toil.

Can I recommend this excellent review with some really useful information about the Tennessee Williams play ‘Camino Real’ which might, or might not, have some bearing on these paintings

http://icallitoranges.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/last-paintings-of-cy-twombly.html

 

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