Saturday, 20 September 2008

Hero and Leandro

aka... Cy Twombly is Painting Loss (Part 1)

Ok - I've been carrying this one around with me for a good while, so I reckon it's time to put it on paper. There were two rooms - or rather two series - in the Twombly exhibition that didn 't leave me.

For this first one, I briefly contemplated filing it under my Paintings I like tag. But that doesn't capture it. It doesn't get to it at all. There is something terribly wrong with LIKE in this context. It's far more complicated than LIKING implicates. Liking is niceness; prettiness; oh, that is kinda cutesy.

Well, there is something really aesthetically appealling about the series of four paintings - or rather: pieces of art - that constitute Hero and Leandro. Just looking at them from a distance. A wave, viridian and a dark magenta crimson, rising up on the left...... calming, calming further until it is white nothingness - thick textured off-whites layered atop of each other to the far right of the three pieces in oil. Large paintings they are. Intricately layered in oil with the white and the wave and the green and the dark red. Violent calm it seems to shoutwhisper.

Then. Tucked on as an afterthought a small piece of paper with a scrawled line:
"He's gone, up bubbles all his amorous breath"

- a line from Christopher Marlowe's poem which gave the inspiration.

That's the art.

Cy Twombly, Hero and Leandro, 1981-84
Part 1 168,x200cm,
Part 2 156x205cm
Part 3 156x205cm
Oil, crayon and graphite on canvas
Part 4 42x30cm
Graphite on graph paper
Cy Twombly Gallery, The Menil Collection Houston

The concept? It's so obvious that it sticks; unsticks the beauty of the piece wholeheartedly. Leandro - the lover of Hero - crosses the sea to visit his loved one. One night he drowns. In despair over his death, Hero drowns herself in sorrow and the sea. Do you get it? He dies in a bloody, green wave of powerful mediterranean water. She in contrast simply vanishes into white nothingness, demurely, obediently, the nothingness engulfs her sorrow. I kind of see Kate Blanchet in all her white Lord of the Ring otherworldliness walking into a calm lake, all glowy and sacrificial.

A painting I like? No. Nobody drowns in waves of blood, unless you've been hit over the head beforehand. Your lungs just fill with water, no blood, just no air. And then a body is washed ashore within a couple of hours and not only in three weeks, if one's lucky. I know that bit, and I wish I wouldn't. But that isn't the point. How boringly does he think he can go and construct gender? Yawn... active/ passive, red blood/ white sorrow... C'mon Cy! I'm sure you could have done something a bit better on this one! It's not even an old piece, you did this in the early 1980s! No?!

It's just a shame that it's an awfully attractive - beautiful - series of paintings. Liking? ... far too nice for it.


Kari Gibson said...

How fabulous that it got you thinking so much about it, obviously you weren't able to shake it from your mind.

It is an interesting piece, isn't it? It starts off so well and then fizzles out...

Hmmmm, a great blog!

Gesa said...

thinking comes as professional hazard with uni work, lol :)
the repros of the whites pieces are really poor in the otherwise fabulous catalogue: i must say part 3 - the white nothingness is my favourite: the layering of the whites works extremely well irl.
hm... i'm kind of finding i want to figure out which was first and which last in series; got the inkling the piece of paper is first and then working to the left? kind of counterintuitive, but that's possibly just me; maybe he went rather straightforward about it; now, what got me thinking that???

Kari Gibson said...

I think you could be right, the piece of paper (found, do you think?) could well have been the start.

Oh, yes, there is no way that white panel can be shown properly in a catalogue, the subtleties would be well and truly lost.

Believe me, the thinking doesn't stop apres uni either, lol!

Gesa said...

I think it's definitely his handwriting, so probably not a found paper ... but the poem by Marlowe is mentioned as inspiration. But it's an interesting one about proceedings - most of his paintings in the exhibition are presented as rooms of series, after series,... and several quite clearly comment on development within series... this one was first, that one next... this piece works more like a triptych... or whatever the word is for four; but still i wonder if it was conceived as such...

Yellow said...

Your description of his followed by her death makes me wonder if the last white canvas is the aftermath, after they're both gone for this world. Not a quaint 'and they're together at last in heaven, all white & peaceful' but an undulating nothing, an absence. Why does her death anger me more than his? His was due to a natural disaster, hers was just waste, self indulgence. It's fiction, but it makes me mad. The violent brushwork, and the blood, bubbles & seawater imagery is compelling. The second canvas for me is the waterscape I see her wading out into, from the near shore, out beyond the picture place, submerged in the otherwise safe and calm water.

Gesa said...

Thanks, Steph - hm... interesting one with the interpretations: it's a series alright, but temporal? spatial? a bit of both.... i think what really irritated me was the contrast between wave and calm nothingness, and that i read the latter as her part in the whole story; but maybe it's much more temporal as you said above...

Anonymous said...

It's a line from John Keats sonnet, not Marlowes poem :) Just thought you'd ought to know.