Naming the Gods: Cy Twombly’s Passionate Poiesis

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Naming the Gods: Cy Twombly’s Passionate Poiesis concerns itself with the contemporary art work of Cy Twombly and his radically innovative and necessary forms of creating for our times as seen against the deep background of classical Greek mythology. In particular, the two entwined figures and images of Orpheus, lyre player, lover and journeyer to the underworld, and Dionysos/Bacchus, god of wine, ecstasy and madness, are taken up as the two principal thematic leitmotifs which animate and overarchingly inform Twombly’s entire artistic oeuvre across all the mediums in which he worked, both literally and symbolically, from the early 1950’s until the last series of brilliantly colored paintings he made just before his death in 2011.

 

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Naming the Gods: Cy Twombly’s Passionate Poiesis concerns itself with the contemporary art work of Cy Twombly as seen against the deep background of classical Greek mythology. In particular, the two entwined figures and images of Orpheus, lyre player, lover and journeyer to the underworld, and Dionysos/Bacchus, god of wine, ecstasy and madness, are taken up as the two principal thematic leitmotifs which animate and overarchingly inform Twombly’s entire artistic oeuvre across all the mediums in which he worked, both literally and symbolically, from the early 1950’s until the last series of brilliantly colored paintings he made just before his death in 2011. His preoccupations with the rhythms of language, poetry and writing on the one hand, and his tendencies towards wildly expressive gestural abstraction on the other, ultimately combine in his creation of a genuinely new and original performative aesthetic which unites and connects the powerful impulses of mark-making, painting and assembling with the basic human needs for individuation, realization and redemption.

In a long and rich tradition of sublime poiesis spanning ancient Greek tragedy, through Romanticism, the poets Friedrich Hölderlin and Rainer Maria Rilke, and into our own fragmented and imperiled postmodernist times, Twombly’s artistic corpus is viewed as providing a radically renovative relationship and practice for honoring, working with and valorizing both psyche and matter, the inner and outer worlds, as well as with delimiting a uniquely germinative and seminal space for the further enactment of creative human ‘doing,’ ‘making,’ ‘pro-ducing,’ and ‘being,’ in reciprocal and intimate relationship with the otherness of ‘things,’ nature and the environment.

“Gary Astrachan literally gathers the reader up into an entrancing meditation on the transformative power of art to change our minds. His book evokes the healing poiesis of art and is a precious gift to our troubled and chaotic times.”

-Murray Stein, Ph. D., author of The Bible As Dream

“Gary Astrachan has written a book in somewhat of a new genre all its own. Depth psychology, philosophy, mythology, art history and literary criticism here interpenetrate, cross-breed and give birth to a poetic dissertation on the perennial attempt to name the gods back into our lives. He weaves the threads of Western culture into a garment that could be worn seamlessly at the Knitting Factory or in the Academy, while delivering us from a labyrinth of images and ideas into revery again and again.  Occasionally, more often in the wake of some fall that radically disrupts and shatters the fragile psychic structures that we tend to regard as reality, we get to experience the interconnectedness of all phenomena, and sometimes even, the formless common ground from which it emerges. Here in Astrachan’s book on the art works of Cy Twombly along with those of a selection of his stellar forebears and fellow ‘effers’ of the ineffable and their mythic heritage, is in effect something of a guide book for the inhabiting of such realms.”

-Corwin Fergus, Jungian analyst, and filmmaker of Oil and Water: Reflections on Nature, Madness and Psyche

“It took my breath away to come upon the Maenads scrawled across the top of a single canvas once in a museum, and now there’s an entire book devoted to the Dionysian pressure in Cy Twombly’s life and work. Astrachan’s book elucidates Twombly’s art while exploring a mythological pulse and psychological territory not previously entered. His painterly writing is gorgeous– smart and luscious wine-soaked prose that turns into poetry. Following the sublime Orphic thread through these pages with Astrachan gives us a clue to the epiphanies in Twombly’s oeuvre, the determination, touches of madness, the intelligent and erotic élan vital, the pouring forth into language and image that never ceased in his spectacular career.”

Nor Hall, author of Irons in the Fire and Those Women

“In this moving and penetrating book, Gary Astrachan has succeeded in excavating many of the deeper Graeco-Roman mythological influences which make their presence felt in the art work of Cy Twombly. The author explores the multi-faceted meanings which Twombly’s art invokes in its performative processes, and makes us look with new eyes, hearts, and minds at the soulful dimensions of artistic creativity in general. Living amidst the poetic splendors and fragmented histories of Rome, Twombly drew upon its layered aesthetic treasures in his life-long pursuit of weaving mythological meanings into completely contemporary forms.  Astrachan dwells brilliantly on the signs, messages and interconnections in Twombly’s paintings and drawings which restore language, writing and mark-making to their archetypal backgrounds in the realm of the gods. This book helps us to grasp the ‘understandable’ in Twombly’s work while creating space for what is not yet ‘understandable,’ or perhaps even ‘representable,’ to still strongly resonate.”

Allan Guggenbühl, Jungian analyst and author of Men, Power, and Myths

Table of Contents

Prefatory Note vii

List of Images viii

Chapter I Caesura-ing the Visible 1

Chapter II This Matter of Space/Making Space Matter 7

Chapter III Orpheus descending, falling 25

Chapter IV Leaving Traces and Making Marks 79

Chapter V Dionysos: Performing Madness and Ecstasy 95

Chapter VI Bacchus and the Folds of the World 143

Chapter VII The Rubedo, La Véraison, the Reddening 161

Chapter VIII Seeing and Being Seen /The Spaces Between 197

Appendix I 231

Appendix II 233

Bibliography 235

Acknowledgements 247

Photography and Copyright Credits 248

About the Author 250

 

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