Shortly after a 2003 visit to the Caribbean island St. Barthélemy, Twombly made six seascapes entitled A Gathering of Time (2003), which include Untitled, 2003. Executed in Lexington, the oil-on-canvas paintings are oriented horizontally in the traditional landscape format. The turquoise palette conjures the Caribbean Sea, and transparent passages mimic the atmosphere and depth of the tropical water. Under close examination, however, the awkward aspects of Twombly’s marks assert themselves, and the messy excess of the white splotches and the traces of red and yellow—applied directly with the artist’s fingers—impart a concealed, darker energy that interrupts the apparent tranquil reverie.
Whereas the Gathering pictures present the translucent waters of the Caribbean in warm weather, Twombly’s next body of work—Untitled (Winter Pictures)—depicts the opaque, largely colorless Tyrrhenian Sea during a cold Italian winter. The series comprises ten paintings made in Gaeta with household acrylic paint applied to wood boards with a combination of brush, cloth, and the artist’s hands, and executed simultaneously over the course of six to eight months in 2003–04. Untitled No. 9 is in many respects representative of the series. Working on top of a bluish white ground, Twombly drenched the field with wavy, sweeping arabesques of earthy browns variously modified by rivulets of red, yellow, and black.
The Winter Pictures resulted from Twombly’s direct observation of the panoramic views of the Gulf of Gaeta. The vertical wood panels are, in fact, the same proportion as the windows in the artist’s studio. Considered in this light, one can imagine the paint drippings as a depiction of rain washing over muddy panes of glass. Pondered as views of the sea, Twombly’s squiggles of brown paint suggest imaginative abbreviations of marine rhythms—the rims of waves or the motion of tides.
Cy Twombly. Untitled, 2003. Private Collection. © Cy Twombly. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.