Twombly and Poussin rub shoulders in an uneasy way

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A sea of smeared and dripped white is weighed down by undertones of grey. The overall effect is misty and eerie. But what wrenches this painting by Cy Twombly into violent grandeur is the eruption of red, like a slaughtered whale’s exploding blood, in the lower left part of the canvas. The painting, from 1985, is called Hero and Leandro (To Christopher Marlowe). Hero and Leandro (or Leander in English usage) were lovers in ancient Greek mythology who both drowned. When you discover that, it is easy to see that Twombly’s apparently abstract painting is a brilliant response to the tragic essence of these doomed lovers’ watery fate: it is an evocation of death at sea, and its smoky ambiguities suggest a heady cocktail of death and desire. The title invokes the Elizabethan writer Christopher Marlowe, who wrote about Hero and Leander and who was himself murdered close to the river Thames in Deptford; so this is also about the death of Marlowe. The mythical lovers drowned. Marlowe was stabbed. The blood in the painting is surely his. It is a cliche that abstract art is distant from real life, impenetrable and remote. Twombly is an abstract painter who tells stories of love, longing and loss. His art is always tangy with experience – it drips life.

more from Jonathan Jones at The Guardian here.

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