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CY TWOmbly

"Cy wanted to work directly in clay, squeezing and shaping about 16 new works. I then made castings of 12 of these, some in multiples. However some we did not cast but left in wax. In total we made 20 castings and he would chisel and paint, wanting to keep the works darker in color than his usual applied white finish. Of the clay and assemblage pieces, fifteen were cast in bronze. They’d been initialed “CT” in the molds, initials that Cy personalized with a “hot stick” (a hot poker) when they came out of their casts."

CY TWOMBLY: FOUNDRY SCULPTURE, 2002

by Ray Kass with Steven Bickley

I met Cy Twombly at Sally and Larry Manns’ Lexington home on McLaughlin Street sometime in the mid 1990s. Even before our introduction, a work of art that crossed my path seemed to be leading me toward a meeting with this western Virginia artist. Around 1990 an array of personal objects and works of art that seemed evidently connected to him began showing up at antique shops and flea markets in Roanoke.1 One day while visiting Ed Bordett’s Art Images silkscreen studio in Roanoke, where Brian Sieveking was producing the Mountain Lake Workshop silkscreen prints by Howard Finster, I noticed a small, unsigned painting on canvas mounted on wood (about 6 inches square) that had consecutive, horizontally scribbled pencil lines crossing the lower half. I asked Bordett what he knew about it. He told me that he had bought it at Bob Beard’s antique store on the Roanoke Market for $2.00. When I admired it, he offered to sell it to me; I was tempted but, as a professor at a Virginia land grant university, I chose to comply with the unspoken ethical mandate expected of a public service employee and told him that I thought it could be an early work by Cy Twombly. I persuaded him to keep it and give me time to do some research on it. He later consigned it to an art associate of mine in Paris who had the painting authenticated and eventually signed by Twombly.2

 

A decade or so later, after my introduction to Cy, a second significant object took our relationship in a very positive direction. Any vintage Louisville Slugger baseball bat is a beautiful object, and I was delighted when Brian Sieveking showed me two that he had purchased for his personal collection. The bats were embossed with the signature of Twombly’s father, Edwin Parker “Cy” Twombly, who had pitched for the Chicago White Sox for one season of Major League baseball before quitting to play in the more lucrative Minor League.3 Sally Mann had mentioned to me that Cy was upset that so many items of personal importance to him had been liquidated during the estate sale of his mother’s house that had been arranged, unbeknownst to him, by his sister.4 I asked Brian if he would sell me one of the bats so I could return it to Cy.

 

When I visited Cy at his home in Lexington later in 2001 to give him the bat, he was visibly moved. He asked me what I wanted for it in exchange, and I said that it was a gift but I’d like to work on a project with him. He did not know much about the collaborations of the Mountain Lake Workshop, but at the Menil Collection in Houston he had seen John Cage’s big New River Rocks and Smoke, a watercolor made by Cage in 1990 at the Mountain Lake Workshop, and had liked it very much. Given Cy’s private nature, it seemed unlikely that such a project was possible, but then he asked me if I knew a foundry specialist he could work with who would be able to give him more control over color and patinas of cast bronze and assist him in chipping off elements of the investment.5 He mentioned that he was not satisfied with the work of a local Virginia foundry. He wanted to begin a new group of smaller foundry pieces inspired by small, hand-squeezed clay sculptures by the late Willem de Kooning that he admired.6

 

The following week I brought Steve Bickley, a sculpture professor at Virginia Tech and a foundry expert, to Lexington to meet with Cy at his home. Cy’s subsequent project with Bickley is unique in our Mountain Lake experience in that it had no public participation beyond the two of them. In spring of 2002, a private studio in one of the College of Architecture facilities off Prices Fork Road in Blacksburg was arranged for them to use. Cy would visit periodically, staying for as long as a week in a B&B just off-campus. Working alone in a room adjoining Bickley’s studio, he made pieces in a white stone clay body, in a couple of cases incorporating found materials (for example, a wooden box that he used as a base in a piece that he referred to as “The Bone Yard”; Cy thought it resembled a work that he had just done for the Menil Collection) and in other instances simply assembling found objects—an actual pumpkin topped with a round metal candy box topped by a small toy reindeer and finally a wooden African spoon balanced atop the reindeer’s antlers; although a mold was made, this piece was never cast. Cy did all of the clay work and Bickley made the rubber molds and oversaw the casting at a foundry in Tennessee; they both worked together removing elements of the investment wherever Cy wanted it removed.

 

As Bickley noted,

Cy wanted to work directly in clay, squeezing and shaping about 16 new works. I then made castings of 12 of these, some in multiples. However some we did not cast but left in wax. In total we made 20 castings and he would chisel and paint, wanting to keep the works darker in color than his usual applied white finish.

 

Of the clay and assemblage pieces, fifteen were cast in bronze. They’d been initialed “CT” in the molds, initials that Cy personalized with a “hot stick” (a hot poker) when they came out of their casts.7 In a few cases, such as the so-called “Bone Yard,” two or more casts were made. Most of the pieces were left untitled and identified by measurements, though two had nicknames—besides “The Bone Yard,” there is another piece that has an uncanny resemblance to a loaf of bread; on it Cy wrote “Slice of Life” and mused, “the art historians will have fun with this.”8

 

The pieces were taken to Cy and he kept some of them on the windowsill of his storefront studio in downtown Lexington. Cy personally designed a “PF” metal stamp (standing for “Price’s Fork” where Bickley lives) and was present when each of the sculptures was embossed with this seal.

 

Cy Twombly had exacting personal standards and he was never completely resolved about the scale of some of the pieces; although signed, some of the pieces may have remained “unfinished” in his estimation.

6 Cy and I had a discussion about these particular works by de Kooning. I visited de Kooning periodically in the late 1960s and ’70s at his Long Island studio, and he had shown me some new hand-sized bronze castings that he kept in a box under a window bench seat. He told me that he enjoyed their small scale and that they were highly personal to him and he did not want to give them to his gallerist, Xavier Fourcade, to be exhibited. However, they were exhibited soon afterwards. I have often wondered what he thought of the enlarged versions that were later made of them—I recall one in which you can see an enlarged thumb print.

 

7 As Bickley recalled, molds were made for everything but not all were cast. Three casts were made of “The Bone Yard,” which included eight small pieces that can be arranged on their cast box. The pieces were very heavy and Cy had an additional group of the eight pieces that went on “The Bone Yard” cast so he could make different arrangements of them on the original wood box in his studio in Lexington; the bronze cast of the wooden box would have been too heavy for him to easily lift.

8 According to Bickley, “only two works that he made in our workshop referenced his earlier ‘white’ work. One of these [was the piece] that he called ‘The Bone Yard’. The other, that he called ‘Slice of Life,’ was the only piece that his classic writing appears on, other than his signature initials.”

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