It’s a Family Affair: Cy Twombly’s Son, Alessandro, Carries on in His Father’s Tradition With Bright, Blooming Abstractions

This unusual show is the result of three generations of Twomblys, from Cy Twombly the master painter to Alessandro Twombly his son, and finally his grandson Caio Twombly, founder of Amanita Gallery.

Amanita Gallery
Alessandro Twombly, 'Gates of Rome,' 2023, acrylic on linen 102 3/8 in. x 102 3/8 in. Amanita Gallery

‘Alessandro Twombly: Etruscan Painting
Amanita Gallery, 313 Bowery, New York, New York
To June 15, 2024

The son of the late canonical giant Cy Twombly, Alessandro Twombly, is exhibiting an unjustly neglected show currently at Amanita gallery. His father, probably the most achingly sophisticated New York school painter of the last 40 years — and, famously, an influence on Jean-Michel Basquiat, Anselm Kiefer, and Julian Schnabel — exiled himself to Italy from 1957 onwards. Mr. Twombly carries on in this tradition. 

Mr. Twombly has been grouped with the German Neo-expressionists in the past, but that is not quite right. These bright, blossoming abstractions are deeply Italianate in feel. The title of “Etruscan Painting” reflects this.  If it is necessary to call them anything at all, the term lyrical abstraction seems appropriate. Mr. Twombly isn’t inclined to shock, nor is he afraid of unabashed beauty. In that he is much like his father, whose Phaedrus tryptic famously induced the artist Rindy-Sam to kiss it.  

This does not make him any less daunting, however. Mr. Twombly inhabits that space of impossible aesthetic freedom that the New York school sought to claim, a space of wild energy and wide-open possibility.  The result is painting that is deeply organic. His efflorescent shapes, some would call them paroxysms of color, recall blossoms — he has noted that he is deeply inspired by nature — but could also be masses verging on figures. It is a continuation of the play with visual legibility that has marked this school of painting from its inception in the 1940s, and the assurance of these large-scale paintings show that the baton has been definitively passed. 

Along with the bursts of color, there is a dynamic movement coupled with weightlessness, a sense of flying, that is captured in the aptly titled “Suspended.” Looking at it, one cannot help but think of the figures one continuously encounters in the ceilings of Italian churches, of saints and angels unmoored by religious ecstasy and floating towards heaven. The mass of dark forest green at the center is counterbalanced by two fiery masses of orangey red. You get the sense of a metaphysical encounter taking place in a vast space. 

Other works appear to be more grounded in the visual than the purely abstract. “Birth of Florence” could be a Florentine Griffin or perhaps a bee descending upon a blossom. “Gates of Rome” could be the entrance of the ancient city between two fiery trees, vertically mirrored in a shimmery mirage. Whatever the suggestion, Mr. Twombly assuredly plays with form and color in such a way that the eye and the mind are continuously led by his brush. Like his predecessors, he wishes to artfully unbalance the act of seeing to the point where we begin to fully examine it. 

It helps that Mr. Twombly places nearly all his balletic twists and swirls of color against an aquamarine background, suggesting a figure-ground relationship of flower against sky, or cloud against sky. The anchoring of each canvas in this universal figure-ground relationship allows Mr. Twombly to pull off some unbridled color work within it. His palette is primal in its energy. “Infuse” crackles with electric vermilions, oranges, and reds. 

It helps also that while his figure-ground is consistent, he is always attempting something new. There are coils, there are masses, there are fuzzy interconnected blobs that recall dendrites, there are investigations into the edge of figuration. Mr. Twombly seems intent on never repeating himself. There is enough invention here to reward hours, if not years, of careful and continuous looking. 

Towards the end of his career, Willem De Kooning would also note that figures suspended in space were at the heart of Renaissance Italian art. He would also produce canvases that translated his own investigations into legibility into serene swirls of color suspended in what appears to be vast space, which is no small visual conjuring trick. Mr. Twombly appears to be a happy medium between serene airiness and dense, if not untamed, interrogations of materiality, color, and surface. 

This unusual show is the result of three generations of Twombly, from Cy Twombly the master painter to Mr. Twombly his son, and finally his grandson Caio Twombly, founder of Amanita. Together, they manage to extend the legacy of painting that seems just outside the contemporary mainstream but is vitally important nonetheless.


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