Exhibition banner for Cy Twombly at Tate Modern

Untitled (A Painting in Nine Parts), was first shown in 1988 in the Italian pavilion at the Venice Biennale. It was created specifically for its Venetian setting, both in the watery imagery and the use of elaborately shaped canvases, which recall the Rococo Venetian painters of the eighteenth century such as Giambattista Tiepolo.

Twombly’s work from the 1980s onwards seeks to capture life at its most fleeting and ephemeral. This sense of urgency is echoed in the paintings’ execution and medium. Made in quick-drying and fluid acrylic paint, which flood the wooden panels on which it is applied and smeared by Twombly’s hands and fingers, these paintings are some of the most spontaneous of his career.

Part I leaves most of the wooden panel bare, apart from some finger-daubed smudges of green. The main part of the picture plane is filled by a wash of cream paint, which drips down and stains the white panel beneath. The inscription is from Rilke’s poem Moving Forward (‘Fortschritt’), in which the poet’s immersion in nature represents a deepening of imaginative consciousness. Part II is still lighter in coloration, but the layers of paint have become heavier. Part III is filled by smears and smudges, suggesting waves. By the final panel, Twombly alternates between bold areas of broad brush strokes, and a deluge of fingerpainting.