Cy Twombly, post-war art giant, dead at 83

Influential US artist Cy Twombly, who died Tuesday aged 83, was a key figure in the post-war abstract art world with a career spanning six decades.

Renowned for his vast canvasses adorned with scribblings, the artist let his creations speak for themselves, rarely giving interviews or appearing in public.

The director of the Lambert collection in southern France, Eric Mezil, said Twombly had battled cancer for several years.

Born in Lexington, Virginia in 1928, Edwin Parker Twombly, nicknamed Cy by his father, studied art at Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina in the 1950s.

It was there that he met the likes of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, with whom he later travelled to South America, Spain and Italy.

At the end of the 1950s, he made Italy his home, settling in the town of Gaeta between Rome and Naples, and exhibiting his paintings and sculptures throughout Europe.

Among his signature styles were the use of the colour white, his graffiti-like scribblings and in his photographs, the play of light.

The Museum of Modern Art's chief curator in New York remembered Twombly as among the "giant figures" of contemporary art.

"Uniquely, he marshalled his love of antiquity and the classical world to create radically modern painting," said Ann Temkin, calling Twombly "one of the most erudite artists" exhibited at MoMA.

"For a full six decades, Twombly created works of art of great beauty and sensitivity that did not fit into any 'ism or school, and our understanding of his immense contribution grows only richer as time goes on."

In Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art head curator Paul Schimmel said the artist's death signals the loss of one of the greatest post-war era American artists.

"Along with Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, the three of them formed a triumvirate that had no precedent. You have to go back to Picasso and Matisse to find a group of artists so important in terms of a major change that took place in the history of art," he said.

In 2009, Vienna's Museum of Modern Art showcased 200 of Twombly's drawings, paintings, sculptures, collages and photographs in an exhibition entitled "Sensations of the Moment."

"Cy Twombly is the link between the formal radicalisation of US post-war art and the complexity of European painting," director Edelbert Koeb said at the time.

The elaborate character of the works, Koeb said, "arises primarily from the attempt to confront the model of improvisation with methods of planned chance."

Last year, Twombly made a rare public outing to the Louvre in Paris where he unveiled a painted ceiling in one of the prestigious museum's wings.

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand hailed Twombly as neither a figurative nor an abstract artist, "just brilliant," and his decorative ceiling as a "magnificent work... to mark his great fondness for France."

The Louvre's contemporary art curator Marie-Laure Bernadac also paid tribute, describing Twombly as "not just a great artist but a wonderful man."

"I am shattered by the news of his death," she said.

"We have lost a tremendous person, a special and unique artist who was very quickly adopted by Europe," when the United States took longer to recognise his work, Bernadac continued.

An exposition of Twombly's photographs opened last month at the Lambert collection in Avignon.

According to Mezil, it was Twombly's wish to be buried in his adopted homeland.

"He wanted to be buried in Rome, the city he has cherished for 50 years," he said.

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