The series III Notes from Salalah—three paintings, each comprising three conjoined wood panels made in Twombly’s small storefront studio in Lexington over the course of two years—are a case study of the artist’s dazzling ability to manipulate light and dark color, warm and cool tones. For the works, Twombly covered an underlayer of white ground almost completely with strokes of thin, dark green acrylic, taking great care to vary the transparency and accentuate his brushstrokes. He then added fluid, milky-white coils, which ooze and drip down the surface.
The series is related to Twombly’s “blackboard paintings”—a body of work dating from 1966 to 1972 made with white wax crayon coils on gray painted grounds that constitute an abstraction of cursive script, which the artist called “pseudo-writing.” Revisiting this trademark line some forty years later, the artist enlarged and exaggerated the marks with paint and brush. Here the forms are an interpretation of the calligraphic nature of printed Arabic, a reference most in evidence in Note I, where some of the loops are modified by apostrophe-like strokes.
Although ostensibly based on writing, the paintings are also specifically indebted to place and therefore must be considered in terms of landscape. The series takes its name from the capital of the southern Omani province of Dhofar. A city of antiquity sensually redolent with exoticism and myth, Salalah is also the only part of the arid Arabian Peninsula touched by monsoons and is therefore seasonally lush and green. Understood in this context, and independent of Arabic calligraphy, the cascading lassos of white paint can be thought of as tumultuous abstractions of waves, hillsides, clouds, or rain.
The remarkable scale of Salalah calls attention to the extreme physicality of these paintings and to the actual figure behind the brush. Indeed, Twombly continues to produce ambitious, suggestive, and energetic new work at an advanced age. Today Twombly is an actively irreducible figure whose output—ever impossible to categorize or systematically decipher—remains potently aggressive and strange, experimental and willfully resolved.
Cy Twombly. Note I, 2005–07. Private Collection, San Francisco. © Cy Twombly. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.
Cy Twombly. Note III, 2005–07. Private Collection. © Cy Twombly. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.