SIMON SCHAMA: I have always thought “Twombly” ought to be (if it isn’t already) a verb, as in “twombly: To hover thoughtfully over a surface, tracing glyphs and graphs of mischievous suggestiveness, periodically touching down amidst discharges of passionate intensity.”
NARRATOR: Celebrated art critic and author Simon Schama reads from his essay on Cy Twombly.
SIMON SCHAMA: Or, then again perhaps it should be a noun, as in “twombly: A line with a mind of its own.” He is, I suppose, some sort of impenitent abstract expressionist—and the debt to Pollock has at various times been both clear and readily acknowledged; not least in Twombly’s sense that the essence of the work is the traced process of its own making. And yet no one could be less of a pure abstract expressionist than Cy Twombly. In the sense that he does not have an overriding need to nail down, visually, a surge of temper. He has always been after matter less evanescent and, for all his admission of personal preoccupation, less emotionally self-absorbed. That matter, famously, has been the history (even the pre-history) of human marks: from the most archeologically primordial of scratches and incisions to the development of the rhythmic dexterities which would generate calligraphy. And then before those strokes could be attached to meaning, they would break up into the disrupted and disrupting raw matter of scribble, doodle, and scrawl. Before ever there was Palm Pilot and pen Twombly was palm-piloting his cursive inscriptions in the loopy freehand he celebrates as a kind of proto-calligraphy; drawing blind as he did as an army cryptologist, the hand moving with the lights out, a wily owl of Minerva.