It seems to me that Cy Twombly has achieved a kind of epiphany in this new work. Following on from the Blooming series of 2007, The Rose series, painted last year in Gaeta and now showing at Gagosian London, not only embodies the late flowering of a long and complex career but also represents the most dramatic kind of affirmation of painting’s continuing power and promise.
Jonathan Jones (in The Guardian 2/2/09) compares the impact of seeing them with the experience of encountering Titian’s late work for the first time. It must have been the same too with Monet and his last great waterlily canvases. They also manage to convey something of the elation that Matisse must have felt when assembling those dancing paper cut outs in his final pictures.
They are both light and monumental, spare and effulgent, their vibrant forms laid out with directness and simplicity onto newly liberated expanses of chromatic intensity. Twombly’s hands are palpably present in the smeared pigment and tactile scribblings on the surface of these vast panels, while the pulsing immediacy of his reds and yellows radiate outwards with childish glee.
The words he borrows, loosely grouped fragments of Rilke’s poetry, drift along the margins like an artist’s urgent annotations on his own work, one ‘dedicated to our memories’ and ‘linked to our dreams’. They are as transient as the rose heads and they resonate with melancholic pleasure; the paint is as ‘wet as one who weeps’. But above all, near the end of his painting life, it is the full-blooded moment of flowering, in all its corporeal energy and pleasure, which has captivated him. In the simplest possible terms he recovers a reason to paint.
Cy Twombly, The Rose, Gagosian Gallery, February 12 - May 9, 2009