Skip to content


Cy Twombly (formally, Edwin Parker Twombly, Jr.) is known for having extended the bounds of Abstract Expressionism. Having served in the U.S. Army as a cryptologist, he utilized a technique of nonsensical, primordial inscription called ‘asemic writing,’ wherein marks bear resemblance to the written word but have no basis in language. Twombly would often sit on a friend’s shoulders while working and have the friend move back and forth across the length of his canvas while the artist painted his signature fluid lines. His paintings are intellectually ambitious and his sculptures multifaceted and complex.  In contrast to peers such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, the latter of whom Twombly studied alongside at Black Mountain College, Twombly employed the distinct mark making style of a draughtsman, favoring drawing and handwriting as primary compositional elements. Twombly relied on sophistical philosophical and emotional themes, rather than brute force and violence, in his work. Based largely in Rome, Twombly focused his work on Classical European subjects, melding them with the new American Style of painting pioneered by the first generation of Abstract Expressionists. He balanced the staid history of the past with his own active personal responses in the present. Reacting to a 1994 retrospective, curator Kirk Varnedoe cited Twombly’s work as “influential among artists, discomfiting to many critics and truculently difficult not just for a broad public, but for sophisticated initiates of postwar art as well.” His work can be found in the collections of the Tate Modern, Museum of Modern Art, and the Musee du Louvre, for which he was commissioned to paint a ceiling. He has been the subject of retrospectives at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, Musee National d’Art Moderne, and the Museum of Modern Art, among others.