TateShots

John Squire on Cy Twombly

The Stone Roses musician gets up close to The Four Seasons

John Squire of The Stone Roses is both a musician and an artist. In this TateShots, he gets up close to Cy Twombly's epic canvases The Four Seasons to explain why the American painter is one of his all-time heroes.

transcription

Hello. I’m John Squire, and I’m here at the Tate Modern to talk about four of my favourite paintings from the collection, Cy Twombly’s Quattro Stagioni. This is Autunno, which I think was the first canvas that Twombly attempted in the series, and it was the inspiration for the rest. It was inspired by a grape harvest in Italy, and I think if you look at some of the forms and the choice of colours, you can see maybe ripe fruits that are ready for picking. I love the use of handwriting, scribbling and scratching, in Twombly’s work – the way that titles and dates and lines of poetry find their way into the work. It’s something I’ve been trying to experiment with myself recently. The boats in the Spring piece are a recurring motif in his work. They could be ferrying the dead across the River Styx or maybe they could be allusions to funeral barges or warships. It’s a stunning piece of work. These pastel crayon marks seem quite violent. The whitewash over previous words and marks gives it a real sense of depth. You know, I’m amazed at the scale, actually. I wasn’t really prepared for that, after seeing only small reproductions in books. The violence of some of the work, the application of the paint, the scale of the handwriting, which was something I wasn’t really prepared for. It seemed quite flat in the books. I think he’s very brave to leave such large areas of the canvas blank, or apparently blank at first look. But he’s very intelligent the way your focus is immediately brought into one area, and then you’re allowed to drift round the rest of it. They do look like ancient walls, maybe. I know that Twombly’s work has been mis-read in the past as being graffiti-inspired. One Italian critic described a collection of his as ‘latrinograms’, to which Twombly replied, or countered words to the effect, ‘How sick would you have to be to cross the water just to look at a dirty word written on a toilet wall?’ which I thought quite a good one. It almost looks to me like he’s taught himself to paint like a child again. I think Twombly has performed a great feat in managing to combine innocence and wisdom, in a way. He appeals to me because he strikes me as an outsider. I know that he left America, he chose to leave, just as abstract expressionism was establishing itself and American art was being accepted worldwide. So I admire him for staying, for being, un-American, I suppose.

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