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Silkscreen print of black and white child-like lines from his Blackboard series, 1969-71


On the Bowery, 1969-71

silkscreen on Schollers Parole paper, edition of 100 + 20 Artist Proofs, signed, numbered 
25.5 x 25.5 inches
© 2021 Cy Twombly Foundation



This silkscreen by Twombly is from the portfolio of 10 artists, entitled 'On the Bowery', 1971 and is part of Twombly's Blackboard series (1966-71), so-named because the artwork appeared to have been inspired by the notion of the classroom blackboard or the child’s primer as a temporal and highly graphic conveyor of information. Twombly’s first Blackboard paintings had been made after a year-long break from painting following the 1964 debacle when the Baroque exuberance of his Nine Discourses on Commodus series had been savagely attacked by American critics.

Writing and language served as major conceptual foundations for Twombly's mostly abstract art. Using the graphic process of writing and translating a continuous flow into a painterly language, Twombly was inspired by the method used to teach handwriting to children. Twombly himself had been taught to write using this technique. This body of work was immediately hailed as a much-needed return to form and a necessary purging of his former Baroque elaboration. The paintings and prints from this series have swirling fields of looping scribbles on dark grey oil-paint backgrounds that resemble the slate of a blackboard. In response to criticism of the apparent crudity or untutored rawness of his line, something that the artist had worked hard reproduce, Twombly replied that it was a “child-like” line but not a “childish” one. Such “child-like” quality to his line, Twombly once pointed out, is in fact, “very difficult to fake, to get that quality you need to project yourself into the child’s line. It has to be felt.” (Cy Twombly quoted in Hayden Herrera, “Cy Twombly, A Homecoming,” Harper’s Bazaar, no. 3393, August, 1994, p. 147). A painting from the blackboard series established a new auction record for Twombly’s work in November 2014, selling for $69,500,000 at Christie’s New York.

“On the Bowery” is part of the eponymous 1971 portfolio, in an edition of 100 plus 20 artist proofs. The other artists included are Robert Indiana, Robert Ryman, Will Insley, John Giorno Les Levine, John Willenbecher, Charles Hinman, Richard Smith and Gerald Laing. All the artists had at the time studios on the Bowery in New York City, an area characterized by a vibrant community spirit and creative atmosphere. The portfolio includes silkscreened photographs of the artists in front of their Bowery studios.


Edwin Parker (Cy) Twombly, Jr. (1928-2011) was an American artist well known for his large-scale, freely scribbled, calligraphic-style graffiti paintings, on solid fields of mostly gray, tan, or off-white colors. He studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and then at the Art Students League of New York, where he met Robert Rauschenberg, who encouraged him to attend Black Mountain College near Asheville, NC. At Black Mountain in 1951 and 1952, Twombly studied with Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell and Ben Shahn. In 1952, Twombly travelled to North Africa, Spain, Italy, and France on a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and then served in the army as a cryptologist. In the period 19555-59, he worked in NY and afterwards he moved to Italy.

Twombly’s first exhibition was in 1951 at the Kootz Gallery. In 1968, the Milwaukee Art Museum mounted the first retrospective of his art. Other retrospectives included Kunsthaus Zurich in 1987, the Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris, in 1988, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1994, with additional venues in Houston, Los Angeles, and Berlin. The Cy Twombly Gallery of the Menil Collection in Houston, which was designed by Renzo Piano and opened in 1995, houses more than thirty of Twombly's paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, dating from 1953 to 1994. A large collection of Twombly's work is also kept by the Museum Brandhorst and the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich.

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