Friday, August 08, 2008

Poems to the Sea

To Tate Modern for Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons. It’s difficult to be neutral about Cy Twombly, particularly given the extremes of praise and criticism he attracts. His most recent work doesn’t do much for me, but I’ve always liked Poems to the Sea (1959), one of the highlights (if memory serves) of the Serpentine Gallery’s Twombly show a few years ago. I see Tracey Emin is a fan of these too. Here is some commentary from reviewers of the Tate exhibition:  
Sue Hubbard: “In the spring of 1957, Twombly left America and set sail once again for Italy, leaving the citadel of modernist painting for a world steeped in ancient mythology and struggling with the aftermath of war. White and bleached, his paintings from this period are full of the effects of the harsh Mediterranean light. His Poems to the Sea series, executed in a single day in 1959, is crammed with classical and poetic references. "Whiteness," said Twombly of these spare, lyrical works that elide calligraphy, poetry and painting, "can be the classic state of the intellect, or a neo-Romantic area of remembrance." There is an austere purity to all this classical whiteness as his snaking pencil lines, erased by the smears of white paint, unravel into a syntax of approximate meaning.”
Laura Cumming: “Writing, drawing - they are never completely decoupled. Numbers and letters are like pictograms; lines rippling across a page appear purely abstract, except they resemble waves, and what do waves resemble, Twombly delicately implies, but lines of writing? Poems to the Sea is the title of this series, and what are Twombly's paintings but hand-drawn poems?”
Gordon Burn: “Nowhere is his genius for evocation - for suggesting the mood or feeling of a place or a moment - more apparent than in the set of 24 drawings he made in 1959 called Poems to the Sea. "The sea is white three-quarters of the time, just white - early morning," Twombly told [David] Sylvester. "The Mediterranean at least . . . is always just white, white, white. And then, even when the sun comes up, it becomes a lighter white."
Looking at Poems to the Sea again I found myself thinking about Twombly’s experience among artists in different media at Black Mountain College. They look as if Rauschenberg had partially erased and painted in white over some Cage-influenced Olson poems that had been applied to canvas by Motherwell... The Mediterranean sea in these poems has been written over repeatedly through the centuries (later Twombly paintings specifically reference sea legends like the story of Hero and Leander). In spite of their “whiteness”, Twombly’s Poems ot the Sea convey confusing traces of history and culture. In this they are very different to some of the other seas I’ve discussed here - Sugimoto’s empty vistas, say, or the powerful otherness of the waves in Guillevic’s poems.

No comments: