Cy Twombly

July 2002

Publication: The Sunday Herald

Cy Twombly

Inverleith House



The US-born but Italian domiciled artist Cy Twombly has selected a group of over forty works, most of which have been completed in the last fifteen years, and although the majority is painting, there are also photographs, prints and bronze and plaster-covered wood.  Twombly’s painting is executed in a free-flowing style and even a casual glance reveals that most are not remotely abstract but interpretations of, fittingly considering the Botanic venue, flowers, gardens and landscapes.


Asignificant aspect of Twombly’s approach is his use of text;  the relationship between Twombly’s scrawled, deliberately obscured and fragmented writing and his painting is both simple yet complex.  Often the writing will simply describe a painting: where it was made, as well as the date and Twombly’s signature.  But rather than the formal, contained signature and dates placed by most artists by convention at the bottom of their works, Twombly’s writing will be often be found smeared and trailed over the actual painting itself.  This can give the impression of a palimpsest where successive texts obscure former ones and there is a layered, feel to some of Twombly’s work, augmented in a series of three untitled collages where depth is built up using different media and pieces of paper.


A series of medium-sized acrylics on paper shows a series of lilies in vivid blues and yellows and form an significant contrast to the more literal style of the Scottish painter Elizabeth Blackadder, also well known for her fascination with all things iradaceous. Typically, Twombly has inscribed these paintings in his trademark graffito scrawl, with dates and descriptions, and in some with Gaeta, the name of Italian village where he has his studio.


Some of Twombly’s fresson photographs (a tinting process which lends the prints a painterly quality) portray deliberately unfocused and uncertain subject matter and merge into abstract masses ofcolourand form.  Other images are clearer but also strangely ambiguous as in a series of photographs entitled ‘Tulips’ which dates from 1985.  These are strange, ethereal and sensitive works which relate in a very direct way to the sensuousness of nature but which also use its forms as devices for exploring the transcendental and the metaphysical.



One of the most noticeable elements of the show of Howard Hodgkin’s large paintings is the artist’s decision to have the walls of the Dean Gallery painted a vibrant shade of cobalt blue named Klein International after the French artist’s preference for the hue.


As well a being an immensely powerful and enjoyable experience the colour (and some judicious lighting) has the effect bringing Hodgkin’s work even more vividly to life than usual.  Seen in close proximity, Hodgkin’s work paintings can often clash, jarring uneasily because of their very different compositional and tonal qualities.  But here, perhaps because of the colour and the unique quality of the Dean gallery space, each work seems to live easily with its neigbours.

An important aspect of Hodgkin’s approach is his method to painting over the frame of his paintings as if to indicate that the work is bigger, both in reality and figuratively, than its actual physical dimensions. 


Hodgkin’s painting gives a sense of distilled experience; and like Twombly’s his work are never entirely abstract, a notion enforced by his use of specific descriptive titles and a correlation between these and colour, mood and structure of the p[painting itself.  In Lovers for example two forms seems to embrace concentrically, each marked by its own definite and sharply contrasting colour.  In a painting such as rain its possible to discern to influence of Turner, as curtains of grey sweep from one side of the painting threatening to obscure benign blocks of green and blue.  Because of their vibrancy its easy to overlooked Hodgkin’s darker and more powerful moods and suggestions.  But make no mistake, this is the work of an artist who has experienced life’s conflicting chiaroscuro.