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Celebrated American painter Cy Twombly dies at 83
ROME (AP) - Celebrated American painter Cy Twombly, whose large-scale paintings featuring scribbles, graffiti and references to ancient empires fetched millions at auction, died Tuesday. He was 83.
Twombly, who had cancer, died in Rome, said Eric Mezil, director of the Lambert Collection in Avignon, France, where the artist opened a show in June. Twombly had lived in Italy since 1957.
“A great American painter who deeply loved old Europe has just left us,” French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said in a statement. “His work was deeply marked by his passion for Greek and Roman antiquity, and its mythology, which for him was a source of bottomless inspiration.”
Twombly was known for his abstract works combining painting and drawing techniques, repetitive lines, scribbles and the use of words and graffiti. He is often linked to the legendary American artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, whom he met as a student in New York in the early 1950s.
“Whether it’s making sculpture or working across canvas or making small drawings with quite elaborate and detailed elements in them, you have this very strong sense of the physical presence of these paintings and sculptures, and you have the sense of an artist at work,” the Tate’s director Nicholas Serota said in an in-house interview ahead of a 2008 show of his work.
Though recognition came late for his work _ and he was often overshadowed by the famous company he kept, like Johns and Rauschenberg _ Twombly was asked to paint a ceiling of the Louvre museum in Paris in 2010, the first artist given the honor since Georges Braque in the 1950s.
For that work he chose something simple: a deep blue background punctuated with floating disks and emblazoned with the names of sculptors from ancient Greece, apt for a gallery of bronzes.
“I got into something new in old age,” he said of his choice of color, which was unusual.
The Lexington, Virginia-born artist said he was inspired by the colors he found in a Chinese print as well the blue of early Italian Renaissance artist Giotto, who used paint made from lapis lazuli.
“I was just thinking of the blue with the disks on it, it’s totally abstract. … It’s that simple,” Twombly told The Associated Press at the time.
Simple or not, his work fetched millions at auction: An untitled Twombly painting set an auction record for the artist at a 2002 Sotheby’s sale, fetching euro5.6 million. Before that, a 1990 Christie’s auction set a record for Twombly, with his 1971 untitled blackboard painting going for $5.5 million.
His canvases also ignited the passions of his followers. In 2007, a woman was arrested in France for kissing an all-white canvas he painted, worth about $2 million. Restorers had trouble getting the lipstick off, and she was ordered to pay hundreds of dollars to the owner and the gallery _ and $1.50 to the artist himself.
Born Edwin Parker Twombly in 1928, the artist got his nickname from his father, who was a baseball player for the Chicago White Sox and had been called Cy after another famous slugger, “Cyclone” Young. Eventually Twombly Jr. got the same nickname.
Between 1942-46, he studied modern European art under Pierre Daura, a Spanish artist who was living in his hometown of Lexington, according to a catalog for a 2009 Twombly exhibit in Rome organized by the Tate Modern and Rome’s National Museum of Modern Art.
In 1950, he won a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York, where he was exposed to the works of Rothko, Pollock and others. There he met Rauschenburg, a few years his senior but also a student at the League. On Rauschenburg’s advice, Twombly enrolled at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, the experimental school whose alumni are a Who’s Who of contemporary arts.
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