I remember visiting a big retrospective in Milan, which featured lots of paintings and imagery by David Lynch. Clearly the usual haunted-sofa kind of vibe you would expect from such a show was there, but the raw stillness of those images was in sharp contrast with the artist's films. In the end, to me the highlight of the show was a series of rather amateurish photoshop distortions of old pictures, which – I remember – sort of clicked in my head with Inland Empire's digital aesthetics, definitely a bump from the super-slick Mulholland Drive. Had I not visited that show, I would have lost that missing link that now makes me appreciate Lynch's evolution even more.
What I mean to say, I guess, is sometimes we can better understand an artist's practice if we step off his most beaten track, exploring the sideways and the mistakes he/she has to go through in between the major works.
Cy Twombly, The Artist's Shoes, Lexington Dryprint on cardboard 2005 43,1 x 27,9 cm; Courtesy Schirmer/Mosel Verlag - Nicola Del Roscio Foundation
I had another one of those experiences at BOZAR, at the Cy Twombly photo retrospective. I'm not an expert in Twombly's art, but I can tell it's spontaneous, tapping into a sort of primal enthusiasm that the artist acted out through a process of coexisting trial and error, often guiding the hand to trace recursive lines or doodle colorful explosions. The exhibition showcases more than a hundred prints from polaroid pictures Twombly took in a span of almost six decades, with the occasional painting popping out here and there. Technically, the refusal of automatic focus is consistent with the artist's unpolished drawings, allowing chance to intrude and affect the image directly. The seriality of many of the subjects evokes the reiteration of Twombly's gestures.
In terms of subjects, while Twombly's paintings are primarily abstract, his photos portray the most traditional still life possible. We see a variety of flowers and interior shots of home furniture, but also architecture. By light, focus, color, and composition the author seemed to try and highlight the non-figurative aspect of the shot, letting its contours fuse in a blur or actively intervening with scribbles or paint directly on the picture's surface. In many cases, the banality of the object is bypassed by the fascination for its pure image. Like in Twombly's paintings, though, sometimes we can also find a melancholic and romantic feel for fragile things, empty spaces, worn-out surfaces.
Cy Twombly, Brushes, Lexington,2005, dryprint on cardboard, 43,1 x 27,9 cm; Courtesy Schirmer/Mosel Verlag - Fondazione Nicola del Roscio
The show also features a portrait film, shot by Tacita Dean when she visited the artist in his Lexington home in 2008. The piece complements the exhibition, showing us a late Twombly in his environment, his studio and its surroundings. Titled Edwin Parker, the artist's real name, the film's texture and its seemingly casual framing aesthetically fit in with the rest of the artworks very appropriately, peacefully servicing the tribute to Twombly rather than projecting its own shade of authorship upon the exhibition space.
As I wrote above, if not the most exciting, an artist's secondary production is very useful to connect the dots and understand his/her work much better. This being said, it's also very easy to be disappointed by peeking behind the curtain. It takes a strong, solid artist with consistent poetic focus to stand the test, and of course Cy Twombly was such an artist. He seemed to find all he needed in the mere opportunity to witness a flower, some dry leaves, a pair of slippers, and if those are not much to behold, they're still significant marks on his canvas.
(Image: Cy Twombly, Painting Detail (Roses), Gaeta, 2009, dryprint on cardboard, 43,1 x 27,9 cm; Courtesy Schirmer/Mosel Verlag - Fondazione Nicola del Roscio)