Treatise on The Veil of Orpheus

“Before, I used to smoke and look, because smoking is very conducive to stimulating the mind. Finally I had to stop because it was overstimulating my lungs. I sort of work off and on and I usually paint eight hours and never eat. And I might have some wine to stimulate a free passage of thought. And I used to have always music playing.”

Cy Twombly

 

Cy Twombly photographed by Robert Rauschenberg, circa 1953

 

Treatise on the Veil (First Version), Cy Twombly, 1968.

 

Treatise on the Veil was inspired by Pierre Henry’s 1953 avant-garde musical composition, (Le voile d’Orphée I) The Veil of Orpheus, which records the tearing of a piece of cloth. In his translation of aural to visual phenomena, Twombly reduces his subject matter to its simplest parts, distilling and crystallizing its formal components so as to strengthen its visceral effects.

The first version of Treatise on the Veil is all the more revealing in this light. More succinct and deliberate in his line, Twombly heightens the contrast between form and background. The rectangles spring from the inky sea beneath them, emphasizing the artist’s mille-feuille technique.

 

Pierre Henry using induction coils to control sound spatially.

 

Veil of Orpheus, Cy Twombly, 1968

 

Orpheus, Cy Twombly, 1979

 

Orpheus, Cy Twombly, 1979

 

To listen to Pierre Henry’s composition, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

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The Canvas Like a Giant Notebook

La botte à nique, Jean Dubuffet, 1971. The present work by Jean Dubuffet forms part of a portfolio of screenprints with reproduction drawings and texts by the artist

 

Apollo and the Artist, Cy Twombly, 1975

 

Plush Safe-He Think, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1981

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work functions in similar way to Cy Twombly’s; the canvas becomes more like a giant notebook page than a finished composition, with words and images, along with scratch marks and other artifacts of the thought process, intermingling freely as a pictorial representation of a train of thought. The work is really a portrait of Basquiat; what he is thinking about, who his influences are, he wears them all on the surface of his canvas like a patch on his sleeve. René Ricard sums it up beautifully later in the article:

 

When Jean-Michel writes in almost subliterate scrawl “Safe plush he think” it is not on a Park Avenue facade that would be totally outside the beggar’s venue but on a rusted-out door in a godforsaken neighborhood. Plush to whom safe from what? His is also the elegance of the clochard who lights up a megot with his pinkie raised. If Cy Twombly and Jean Dubuffet had a baby and gave it up for adoption, it would be Jean-Michel. The elegance of Twombly is there but from the same source (graffiti) and so is the brut of the young Dubuffet. Except the politics of Dubuffet needed a lecture to show, needed a separate text, whereas in Jean-Michel they are integrated by the picture’s necessity. I’d rather have a Jean-Michel than a Cy Twombly. I do not live in the classical city. My neighborhood is unsafe.

Hérodiade

Heriodade, Cy Twombly, 1960

Herodiade takes its title from Mallarmé’s dramatic poem and includes direct quotations from the poem transcribed onto the canvas.

 

I. ANCIENT OVERTURE OF HÉRODIADE

The Nurse

(Incantation)

Abolished, and her frightful wing in the tears

Of the basin, abolished, that mirrors forth our fears,

The naked golds lashing the crimson space,

An Aurora—heraldic plumage—has chosen to embrace

Our cinerary tower of sacrifice,

Heavy tomb that a songbird has fled, lone caprice

Of a dawn vainly decked out in ebony plumes…

Ah, mansion this sad, fallen country assumes!

No splashing! the gloomy water, standing still,

No longer visited by snowy quill

Or fabled swan, reflects the bereaving

Of autumn extinguished by its own unleaving,

Of the swan when amidst the cold white tomb

Of its feathers, it buried its head, undone

By the pure diamond of a star, but one

Of long ago, which never even shone.

Crime! torture! ancient dawn! bright pyre!

Empurpled sky, complicit in the mire,

And stained-glass windows opening red on carnage.

The strange chamber, framed in all the baggage

Of a warlike age, its goldwork dull and faint,

Has yesteryear’s snows instead of its ancient tint;

And its pearl-gray tapestry, useless creases

With the buried eyes of prophetesses

Offering Magi withered fingers. One,

With floral past enwoven on my gown

Bleached in an ivory chest and with a sky

Bestrewn with birds amidst the embroidery

Of tarnished silver, seems a phantom risen,

An aroma, roses, rising from the hidden

Couch, now void, the snuffed-out candle shrouds,

An aroma, over the sachet, of frozen golds,

A drift of flowers unfaithful to the moon

(Though the taper’s quenched, petals still fall from one),

Flowers whose long regrets and stems appear

Drenched in a lonely vase to languish there…

An Aurora dragged her wings in the basin’s tears!

Magical shadow with symbolic powers!

A voice from the distant past, an evocation,

Is it not mine prepared for incantation?

In the yellow folds of thought, still unexhumed,

Lingering, and like an antique cloth perfumed,

Spread on a pile of monstrances grown cold,

Through ancient hollows and through stiffened folds

Pierced in the rhythm of the pure lace shroud

Through which the old veiled brightness is allowed

To mount, in desperation, shall arise

(But oh, the distance hidden in those cries!)

The old veiled brightness of a strange gilt-silver,

Of the languishing voice, estranged and unfamiliar:

Will it scatter its gold in an ultimate splendor,

And, in the hour of its agony, render

Itself as the anthem for psalms of petition?

For all are alike in being brought to perdition

By the power of old silence and deepening gloom,

Fated, monotonous, vanquished, undone,

Like the sluggish waters of an ancient pond.

Sometimes she sang an incoherent song.

Lamentable sign!

the bed of vellum sheets,

Useless and closed–not linen!—vainly waits,

Bereft now of the cherished grammary

That spelled the figured folds of reverie,

The silken tent that harbored memory,

The fragrance of sleeping hair. Were these its treasure?

Cold child, she held within her subtle pleasure,

Shivering with flowers in her walks at dawn,

Or when the pomegranate’s flesh is torn

By wicked night! Alone, the crescent moon

On the iron clockface is a pendulum

Suspending Lucifer: the clepsydra pours

Dark drops in grief upon the stricken hours

As, wounded, each one wanders a dim shade

On undeciphered paths without a guide!

All this the king knows not, whose salary

Has fed so long this agèd breast now dry.

Her father knows it no more than the cruel

Glacier mirroring his arms of steel,

When sprawled on a pile of corpses without coffins

Smelling obscurely of resin, he deafens

With dark silver trumpets the ancient pines!

Will he ever come back from the Cisalpines?

Soon enough! for all is bad dream and foreboding!

On the fingernail raised in the stained glass, according

To the memory of the trumpets, the old sky burns,

And to an envious candle it turns

A finger. And soon, when the sad sun sinks,

It shall pierce through the body of wax till it shrinks!

No sunset, but the red awakening

Of the last day concluding everything

Struggles so sadly that time disappears,

The redness of apocalypse, whose tears

Fall on the child, exiled to her own proud

Heart, as the swan makes its plumage a shroud

For its eyes, the old swan, and is carried away

From the plumage of grief to the eternal highway

Of its hopes, where it looks on the diamonds divine

Of a moribund star, which never more shall shine!

Stepháne Mallarmé

 

The poem Hérodiade was in fact never completed, but there is little doubt that the scene between Herodias and her nurse (the only part published under Mallarmé’s supervision) dates from 1864 to 1865. The heroine of Hérodiade is the biblical character more generally known as Salome, but Mallarmé may have preferred the alternative name so as to emphasize that he was concerned not with the sensuous dancer of popular legend but with an ascetic figure who is repelled by the slightest contact with the sensual world, and who, in the later, uncompleted stages of the play, was to demand the head of John the Baptist because he had inadvertently caught a glimpse of her naked body.