Orchids and Etymology of Desire

‘The overwhelming sensuality of the natural world, whose life force is one of pure desire”

Marc Quinn

 

Etymology of Desire, Marc Quinn, 2010. Quinn began his first series of orchids in 2008

 

Alexander McQueen by Sarah Burton, Spring/Summer 2015 collection

 

Etymology Of Desire and Prehistory Of Desire (2010) were the centerpiece of the Alexander McQueen women’s ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2015 show in Paris Fashion Week. Cast from real flowers and parading, the orchids meditate on the human obsession of ideal beauty, achieved through the manipulation, modification and control of nature.

They were gargantuan, even dwarfing the typically attenuated McQueen models, hiked up on platform boots with a curving calligraphic heel. And they got the point across concisely – exotic, oriental, feminine. All pointers Sarah Burton wanted you to pick up in the clothes.

Maybe Burton was juxtaposing her fashion with art to assert the difference between the two. McQueen is one label that’s often lumped into that “art” category, and her last collection provoked criticism from some quarters for a degree of preciousness that pushed it beyond the realm of ready-to-wear.

 

The Diary of a Dress: Alexander McQueen Shares the Saga of How One of His Inspirations – A Peter Arnold’s Orchid Photograph – Evolved from Simple Sketch to Production Nightmare to a Stunning Gown Fit for Supermodel Naomi Campbell. Writer: Lisa Armstrong, Harper’s Bazaar, 2004

 

Kate Moss wearing an orchid printed Cheongsan by unidentified brand. Vogue USA, January 1997

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The Botany of Desired Garments

“Honeybees favor the radial symmetry of daisies and clover and sunflowers, while bumblebees prefer the bilateral symmetry of orchids, peas, and foxgloves”

Michael Pollan
The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World

 
 

Alexander McQueen Spring Summer 2013 by Sarah Burton
“It was bringing back the silhouette of the house and embracing the female form – the hip and bust. But there was a lightness to it. It still felt erotic but not overt,” explained Burton backstage after the show, joking that “most women are worker bees” – which made then for the perfect collection match.

 
 

The making of

 
 

Sneaker Puma by Alexander McQueen Joust III Mid Sunflower. Fall/Winter 2013

Celebrating The Films Of Truffaut With New Prints

On October 2014, Nautilus Art Prints, in partnership with la Cinémathèque Française and MK2, presented four new posters celebrating the films of director François Truffaut: Les 400 Coups (1959), Jules et Jim (1962), Le Dernier Métro(1980) and Vivement Dimanche!(1983).

 
 

The 400 Blows by Paul Blow

 
 

Jules and Jim by Mick Wiggins

 
 

The Last Metro by Jonathan Burton

 
 

Confidentially Yours by François Schuiten

The Meeting on the Turret Stairs

“Hellelil sitteth in bower there,
None knows my grief but God alone,
And seweth at the seam so fair,
I never wail my sorrow to any other one.

But there whereas the gold should be
With silk upon the cloth sewed she.

Where she should sew with silken thread
The gold upon the cloth she laid.

So to the Queen the word came in
That Hellelil wild work doth win.

Then did the Queen do furs on her
And went to Hellelil the fair.

“O swiftly sewest thou, Hellelil,
Yet nought but mad is thy sewing still!”

“Well may my sewing be but mad
Such evil hap as I have had.

My father was good king and lord,
Knights fifteen served before his board.

He taught me sewing royally,
Twelve knights had watch and ward of me.

Well served eleven day by day,
To folly the twelfth did me bewray.

And this same was hight Hildebrand,
The King’s son of the English Land.

But in bower were we no sooner laid
Than the truth thereof to my father was said.

Then loud he cried o’er garth and hall:
‘Stand up, my men, and arm ye all!

‘Yea draw on mail and dally not,
Hard neck lord Hildebrand hath got!’

They stood by the door with glaive and spear;
‘Hildebrand rise and hasten here!’

Lord Hildebrand stroked my white white cheek:
‘O love, forbear my name to speak.

‘Yea even if my blood thou see,
Name me not, lest my death thou be.’

Out from the door lord Hildebrand leapt,
And round about his good sword swept.

The first of all that he slew there
Were my seven brethren with golden hair.

Then before him stood the youngest one,
And dear he was in the days agone.

Then I cried out: ‘O Hildebrand,
In the name of God now stay thine hand.

‘O let my youngest brother live
Tidings hereof to my mother to give!’

No sooner was the word gone forth
Than with eight wounds fell my love to earth.

My brother took me by the golden hair,
And bound me to the saddle there.

There met me then no littlest root,
But it tore off somewhat of my foot.

No littlest brake the wild-wood bore,
But somewhat from my legs it tore.

No deepest dam we came unto
But my brother’s horse he swam it through.

But when to the castle gate we came,
There stood my mother in sorrow and shame.

My brother let raise a tower high,
Bestrewn with sharp thorns inwardly.

He took me in my silk shirt bare
And cast me into that tower there.

And wheresoe’er my legs I laid
Torment of the thorns I had.

Wheresoe’er on feet I stood
The prickles sharp drew forth my blood.

My youngest brother me would slay
But my mother would have me sold away.

A great new bell my price did buy
In Mary’s Church to hang on high.

But the first stroke that ever it strake
My mother’s heart asunder brake.”

So soon as her sorrow and woe was said,
None knows my grief but God alone,
In the arm of the Queen she sat there dead,
I never tell my sorrow to any other one.”

William Morris

 
 

Hellelil and Hildebrand, The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, Frederic William Burton, 1900

 
 

This richly coloured watercolour painting depicts the ill-fated lovers Hellelil and Hildebrand, meeting on the stone stairway of a medieval tower. The princess and her bodyguard had fallen in love but her father regarded the young soldier as an unsuitable match for his daughter and ordered his sons to kill him. The painting captures the couple’s poignant final embrace. Burton was inspired by the story of the ill-fated lovers told in an old Danish ballad. The poem had been translated into English in 1855 by Whitley Stokes, a lawyer and philologist, and friend of the artist.

This watercolour, painted by Frederic William Burton when he was at the height of his career, has been popular since it was first exhibited at the Old Watercolour Society’s Annual exhibition in London in 1864. The writer George Eliot (who had her portrait painted by Burton in 1865) praised it saying: ‘the subject might have been made the most vulgar thing in the world – the artist has raised it to the highest pitch of refined emotion’ and went on to focus on the romance in the picture: ‘the face of the knight is the face of a man to whom the kiss is a sacrament.’

The Meeting on the Turret Stairs is a very important work in Burton’s oeuvre, he made numerous preparatory studies for it, four of which are in the National Gallery of Ireland’s collection. Burton sold the painting to a dealer, Edward Fox White in 1864 but the contract they signed notes that Burton retained the copyright, presumably aware of how valuable the image would be as a print. The painting changed hands a number of times over the following 30 years but in 1898 it was bought by Miss Margaret McNair Stokes (sister of Whitley Stokes). An article by Jeanette Stokes in the Irish Arts Review, (Vol.26, no.3, 2009) refers to the fact that there are tantalising hints in some of Margaret Stokes’s letters to her family that her interest in Burton was something more than friendship. Margaret Stokes was writing a biography of Burton when she died in 1900, in her will she bequeathed the painting, along with a number of other works by Burton, to the National Gallery of Ireland.

Monsters and Marilyns

CS Lewis once said “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been”. This was the primary thought behind the series Monsters and Marilyns. Throughout history Fascists, Communists, Marxists, and Socialists have murdered and oppressed those who were under their rule, yet popular culture and propaganda have tried to make these monsters into heros and icons. Twisting peoples memories and brainwashing them into an Orwellian nightmare.

Andy Warhol’s silkscreen painting of Marilyn Monroe is one of the most iconic painting of the Pop Art Movement. Not many people know that the painting was meant to show the mask of popularity that a celebrity wears. On the outside there were different shades of happiness, but under all the paint and smiles there was something darker: depression, drug use, and suicide. I took this idea and reinterpreted it to speak truth into our popular culture. The hair and make-up from the Marilyn Monroe painting is placed on politicians, dictators, public officials, as well as old horror movie monsters that are liars, murderers, and tyrants. By doing this the statement is made that no matter how much popular culture or the mass media tries to dress up and beautify these people, they are still monsters. Saddam Hussein, Barack Obama, Frankenstein, Dracula, Stalin, Lenin, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, Bill Clinton, Pin Head, Leather Face, Barney Frank, Mao Zedong, the Bride of Frankenstein, Hitler, Hannibal Lecter, Jack (the character from Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining),  and Jesse Jackson are only some of the people that I have Marilynized.

My goal is to force people to look past the media hype and celebrity masks of these people and see them for who they really are. Much like in George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984, people are too willing to give up their freedom and liberty to be taken care of and protected by the Government. They will believe anything that they are told to believe even if they know its a lie because they do not want to know the truth. As a society, we want to be lied to, we want to think that everything is normal even when it is crashing down around us. We want to believe in people even though they give us empty promises and lies every time they open their mouths. We need to wake up and realize that lying to ourselves does not change reality. We must recognize and accept truth. The truth will set you free, but it will not make you sleep easy at night.

Therefore, by linking monsters to the mask-wearing Marilyn Monroe that Andy Warhol portrayed, I demonstrate that things are not what they seem. They are a mask, a lie, a perversion of the truth to allow people to lie to themselves in order to feel secure.”

Jesse Lenz

 
 

Series by Jesse Lenz, 2009

References to Franz Kafka and Popular Culture

 
 

Haruki Murakami makes numerous literary, musical and film references throughout the novel Kakfa on the Shore, particularly to (who else?) Franz Kafka. Several of the characters in the book have a relationship with Kafka or “Kafkaesque” themes, the most obvious being the name the protagonist gives to himself, Kafka Tamura. While the reader never finds out his real name, he explains why he chooses the name Kafka to represent his identity. But why Kafka? It is possible that Murakami used Franz Kafka to emphasize themes of isolation and alienation, as well as to critique forms of Japanese bureaucracy and the police force investigating his father’s murder in particular.

 
 

“Nobody’s going to help me. At least no one has up till now. So I have to make it on my own. I have to get stronger–like a stray crow. That’s why I gave myself the name Kafka. That’s what Kafka means in Czech, you know–crow.”

 
 

Franz Kafka is also a figure that draws many of the characters together. Kafka Tamura is only allowed to stay in the library after revealing his name, which has an profound effect on the library staff. The tragedy of the death of Miss Saeki’s lover is shown in a song she writes for him, named Kafka on the Shore, which also becomes the title of the book. There is a consistently a switching of identities concerning the protagonist which all seem linked in some way or another to Franz Kafka. He switches from 15 year-old runaway, to “Crow”, his alter-ego, to Miss Saeki’s 15-year old boyfriend (who is also named Kafka by Miss Saeki) when he enters his old quarters. In this way, Murakami ties together some of the surreal events in the book by using Franz Kafka as a continuous reference.

With the majority of the novel being set in a library, it is abundant with literary and musical references. Much like the Franz Kafka reference, Murakami uses these references a moments in the plot that draw characters together. In their isolation, the main characters are absorbed in literature, music, and art, providing a starting point for much of their conversations and relationships. In addition to the obvious Oedipial reference throughout the novel, as Kafka searches desperately for his mother and sister, however at the same time, Murakami brings references from popular culture to life, adding a surreal and oddly comical overlay to the events in the novel. In a parallel storyline, Kafka Tamura’s father, brilliant sculptor and crazed cat murderer, takes on the pseudonym of Johnnie Walker. Colonel Sanders, the KFC icon, becomes a character in the novel, a pimp that guides Nakata and Hoshino to Takamatsu and the library, merging both storylines. Truck driver Hoshino, throws away his job and uproots himself after listening to Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, while Kafka Tamura calms himself in an isolated cabin, listening to Prince on his walkman. Murakami cultivates these references similarly to the way he develops architecture in the novel; both historical and contemporary, they blur the passing of time and are devices for the character’s self exploration and identity.

 
 

LITERARY REFERENCES:

The Book of Thousand Nights and a Night, Translated by Sir Richard Francis Burton

The Banquet, by Plato

The Castle, by Franz Kafka

The Trial, by Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka

In The Penal Colony, by Franz Kafka

• Complete Works of Natsume Sōseki

The Tale Of Genji, by Lady Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

Trial of Adolf Eichmann, (Unknown)

Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare

Agamemnon, by Aeschylus

The Trojan Women, by Euripides

Rhetoric, by Aristotle

Poetics, by Aristotle

Electra, by Sophocles

Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles

The Hollow Men (poem), by T. S. Eliot

Tales of Moonlight and Rain, by Ueda Akinari

Matter and Memory, by Henri Bergson

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Aladdin, Added by Antoine Galland to French translation of The Book of Thousand Nights and a Night

The Frog Prince, The Brothers Grimm

Hansel and Gretel, by The Brothers Grimm

Uncle Vanya, by Anton Chekhov

A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, by Jean Jacques Rousseau

 
 

AUTHORIAL REFERENCES:

Leo Tolstoy

Federico García Lorca

Ernest Hemingway

Charles Dickens

 
 

MUSIC REFERENCES:

Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, by The Beatles

The White Album, by The Beatles

As Time Goes By, from the movie Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)

Blonde on Blonde, by Bob Dylan

Mi chiamano Mimi, from La Bohème, by Giacomo Puccini

Sonata in D Major (known as the Gasteiner), by Franz Schubert

Crossroads, by Cream

Little Red Corvette, by Prince

Greatest Hits, by Prince

Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay, by Otis Redding

Archduke Trio, (by Rubinstein, Heifetz and Feuermann) by Ludwig van Beethoven

First cello concerto, (solo by Pierre Fournier) by Franz Joseph Haydn

Posthorn Serenade, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Kid A, by Radiohead

My Favourite Things, by John Coltrane

Getz/Gilberto, by Stan Getz

 
 

ARTIST/COMPOSER REFERENCES:

Duke Ellington

Led Zeppelin

Schumann

Alfred Brendel

Rolling Stones

Beach Boys

Simon & Garfunkel

Stevie Wonder

Johann Sebastian Bach

Hector Berlioz

Richard Wagner

Franz Liszt

An Insistently Metaphysical Mind-Bender

 
 

海辺のカフカ (Kafka on the Shore) (海辺のカフカ) is a 2002 novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. In “Subconscious Tunnels: Haruki Murakami’s dreamlike new novel” (The New Yorker, January 24, 2005) John Updike described it as a “real page-turner, as well as an insistently metaphysical mind-bender”. Since its 2005 English language release (translated, from the Japanese, by Philip Gabriel), the novel has received mostly positive reviews and critical acclaim, including a spot on The New York Times 10 Best Books of 2005 and the World Fantasy Award.

Comprising two distinct but interrelated plots, the narrative runs back and forth between both plots, taking up each plot line in alternating chapters.

The odd chapters tell the 15-year-old Kafka’s story as he runs away from his father’s house to escape an Oedipal curse and to embark upon a quest to find his mother and sister. After a series of adventures, he finds shelter in a quiet, private library in Takamatsu, run by the distant and aloof Miss Saeki and the intelligent and more welcoming Oshima. There he spends his days reading the unabridged Richard Francis Burton translation of One Thousand and One Nights and the collected works of Natsume Sōseki until the police begin inquiring after him in connection with a brutal murder.

The even chapters tell Nakata’s story. Due to his uncanny abilities, he has found part-time work in his old age as a finder of lost cats (notably, Murakami’s earlier work The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle also involves searching for a lost cat). The case of one particular lost cat puts him on a path that ultimately takes him far away from his home, ending up on the road for the first time in his life. He befriends a truck driver named Hoshino, who takes him on as a passenger in his truck and soon becomes very attached to the old man.

Kafka on the Shore demonstrates Murakami’s typical blend of popular culture, mundane detail, magical realism, suspense, humor, an involved plot, and potent sexuality. It also features an increased emphasis on Japanese religious traditions, particularly Shinto. The main characters are significant departures from the typical protagonist of a Murakami novel, such as Toru Watanabe of Norwegian Wood and Toru Okada of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, who are typically in their 20s or 30s and have rather humdrum personalities. However, many of the same themes re-occur in Kafka on the Shore as were first developed in these and other previous novels.

In an interview posted on his English language website, Murakami says that the secret to understanding the novel lies in reading it several times: “Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren’t any solutions provided. Instead, several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It’s hard to explain, but that’s the kind of novel I set out to write”.

Feathery Butterflies

“The characterizing McQueen trademarks were very much still there – the exaggerated silhouettes, the bold prints, the drama – but Burton presented them in a much freer way, with a lightness and femininity that contrasted with the dark and complex collections of the past – and it all felt so right. The McQueen woman has not changed, she has evolved.”

Sarah Burton

 
 

Alexander McQueen Spring-Summer 2011 Ready-to-Wear collection

 
 

Sarah Burton said before the show that she didn’t feel she was as dark as Alexander McQueen, and the dresses – featuring the same McQueen exaggerated, stiffened silhouettes – had a lightness of subject matter despite being as brilliantly and painstakingly constructed. Gold painted corn ears made up incredible regal dresses with trains of pheasant feathers, stunning butterfly print dresses had feathery butterflies clustering out of the necklines and silk ivy coated in black or gleaming gold grew around nude sheaths.

Michael Jackson’s I’ll Be There played Burton out to her standing ovation and us back out into the Parisian rain, many in tears – the extraordinary poignancy of the Alexander McQueen story once again breathtaking.

From the Point of View of a Villain

“God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

 
 

 
 

A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent, has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal – an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces a battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom – and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well.

 
 

Theatrical release poster

 
 

On May 12, 2009, it was revealed that Brad Bird was developing a live-action motion picture based on Walt Disney‘s Sleeping Beauty (Clyde Geronimi, Les Clark, Eric Larson, and Wolfgang Reitherman, 1959), retold from the point of view of Maleficent with Angelina Jolie starring as the eponymous character. In January 2010, it was rumored that Tim Burton was to direct the film. Reports surfaced online in May 2011 stating that Burton had left the project to focus on his other upcoming projects; Disney began to look for a replacement director, with David Yates being cited as a potential candidate due to his experience with the fantasy genre, having directed the final four Harry Potter films. On January 6, 2012, Disney announced that Robert Stromberg would direct the film.

 
 

The character is Disney’s version of the wicked fairy godmother from the original French fairy tale, loosely based on Carabosse from Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet

 
 

Maleficent (2014) marks the directorial debut of Robert Stromberg after serving as a visual effects supervisor on numerous films, including Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir, 2003), and more significantly, as a production designer of Avatar (James Cameron, 2009), Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton, 2010), and Oz the Great and Powerful (Sam Raimi, 2013); the first two films earned him consecutive Academy Awards for Best Production Design.

Angelina Jolie also said that “having a director (Robert Stromberg) coming from the world of production design really helped pull me into the fairy tale world. The film is beautiful but also has a sexy, dark edge because the story is coming from the point of view of a villain.”

 
 

By coincidence, Maleficent (2014) was released on May 30, 2014; precisely the same year as the 55th anniversary of Walt Disney’s classic Sleeping Beauty (1959)

 
 

Angelina Jolie worked very closely with Anna B. Sheppard,the costume designer and make-up department to develop Maleficent’s menacing look. Disney executives objected, hoping to take advantage of Jolie’s beauty in marketing the film, but the actress insisted that the character maintain the scarier look of the animated incarnation. Maleficent’s prosthetics and make-up were inspired by singer Lady Gaga, particularly on her Born This Way album cover.

 
 

Single cover designed by Nick Knight

 
 

Angelina Jolie based her character’s speech and accent in homage of the original Sleeping Beauty voice actor Eleanor Audley. Her laughter in the film was also based on the best variation she tried in front of her children and chosen by them.

 
 

Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, who portrays Princess Aurora as a young girl, is the daughter of Angelina Jolie (who plays Maleficent in the movie) and Brad Pitt

 
 

Angelina Jolie was definitely interested to be in the movie to begin with. She repeatedly stated it was because 1.) she grew up on Disney movies as a child, especially Sleeping Beauty (1959); she was quite fond of the character Maleficent: “Since I was a little girl, Maleficent was always my favorite,” Jolie said. “I was terrified of her, but I was also drawn to her. I wanted to know more about her. She had this elegance and grace, yet she was wonderfully, deliciously cruel,” 2.) she wanted to a movie in which her children can go see her in, as well as the fact that her children really also wanted her to be in the movie, 3.) the beauty, warmth, complexity, and strong intelligence of the script, and 4.) she was very impressed with Maleficent’s characterization for this film. In fact, Jolie also served as an executive producer on the film.

 
 

Maleficent marked the first time that Elle Fanning has appeared in a film opposite Angelina Jolie, after starring opposite Brad Pitt, Jolie’s fiancé, in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher, 2008).

Raised Above the Animal

“It is not in giving life but in risking life that man is raised above the animal; that is why superiority has been accorded in humanity not to the sex that brings forth but to that which kills”

Simone de Beauvoir

 
 

Elizabeth Taylor visits the Kruger Park game reserve, just prior to her re-marriage to Richard Burton in Botswana, Africa, Oct. 1975. Taylor is seen here with ‘Taga’, a young orphaned cheetah who was nursed backed to health by rangers at the reserve.

The Painted World

In the artist’s studio in Gaeta, a coastal town on the Mediterranean, works related to his Four Seasons series include details of Primavera (left) and Estate (right). The canvases, shown when still in progress in 1994, are nailed

 
 

Cy Twombly enjoying local fare at a restaurant in Rome

 
 

Another Twombly painting is propped against a wall in the house, where white tiles cover most of the floors

 
 

In the bright open Gaeta house, a second version of Inverno from Twombly’s Four Seasons series hangs against a wall for inspection. Books of poetry, postcards, acrylics and oils, crayons and pencils fill a table

 
 

Twombly in the terraced garden outside the Gaeta house

 
 

A still life in one of the house’s many rooms

 
 

Found frames and French and American flags are propped against the walls in a hallway. Furniture is covered casually in a room behind

 
 

A Twombly sculpture and an antique stool and frame in another room in the apartment

 
 

The artist in his vast, spare apartment on the via Monserrato in Rome, which house his collection of classical pieces

 
 

Photos by Bruce Weber

Text by Dodie Kazanjian

Vogue, 1994

 
 

The taxi doesn’t quite make it up the steep hill to Cy Twombly’s house in Gaeta. At the third hairpin turn we get out and walk the remaining 20 yards to a gray steel door embedded in a rough stone wall. Twombly has a little trouble opening it. Tall, lanky, dressed in rumpled white linen pants held up by blue suspenders, he looks more like a provincial winegrower than a famous artist. The door grates on its hinges, and we’re inside a paradise of thick white walls, terraces, ceramic tile floors, and cool interconnecting rooms bare of furniture except for a few striking pieces—bleached Louis XV chairs, a long table piled high with books, blue-and-white fabrics, ornate empty picture frames, Twombly paintings leaning against the walls, and one or two of his little-known, gawky, white-painted sculptures. Twombly throws back the shutters in each room, flooding the house with light and opening up dazzling vistas of the seaside town and the blue Mediterranean.
On the train down from Rome this morning Twombly started telling me and my husband, an old friend of his, about the town as soon as it came into view around the shoulder of a mountain. “Hadrian had a villa here,” he said. “Cicero is buried here, and so is the Roman general who founded Lyon. Catullus had friends here. It was kind of a summer art colony, like East Hampton, but not anymore—that was 2,000 years ago. Gaeta was the name of Aeneas’s wet nurse. She was with him on his return from Troy, and she died here, so he named the place after her. I believe that. Nobody could make that up.” Twombly is full of history, which he relays in the accents of his Virginia childhood. Even his Italian comes out that way—when he says si, si, which he does a lot, it has a southern drawl to it.

Gaeta, 60 miles north of Naples, is where Twombly has done most of his painting in the last few years. Tacked to the wall in the high-ceilinged room he uses as his studio is a large vertical canvas, more than ten feet tall. Titled Summer, it is the last of a series on the four seasons, which will be shown at the Twombly retrospective that opens at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this month and then travels to Houston, Los Angeles, and Berlin. Autumn, Winter, and Spring (in that order) were finished months ago and have already been shipped to the museum. But “I’m having a real bad time with Summer,” he had told me several times when I spoke with him by telephone from New York. The painting is still unfinished, and Twombly is not happy about letting us see it. When we start asking questions about the Four Seasons, he bristles. “It’s not Four Seasons,” he says. “That sounds like the Four Seasons Hotel. I think of them as Quattro Stagioni. Summer isn’t finished yet, as I told you, and that’s all I’m going to say about that. It’s absurd to talk about paintings that you haven’t finished.”
Cy Twombly is the great outsider of contemporary art. In 1957, at the precise moment when the main energy of the art world seemed to have taken up permanent residence in New York, Twombly moved to Rome. Two years later, he married Tatiana Franchetti, a talented portrait painter from a wealthy and aristocratic Italian family, and he has lived in Italy, more or less, ever since. While his fellow southerners Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were using popular imagery and mundane objects to blaze the trails that would lead to Pop and Minimal art, Twombly chose a different direction entirely. His would lead back through European art and literature to the ancient world of classical mythology, of gods and heroes and the great poetic traditions of the Mediterranean, which in his paintings merges indistinguishably with the modern urban street culture of graffiti, sexual imagery, and raw sensation. His work seems to exist in another time zone.

But Twombly’s work has never been easy to like. The scribbles, smears, blots, and seemingly random markings of his intensely personal style have often evoked the kind of philistine response that says, “My kid could do better than that.” Artists love his work, but will the public come to see it at MoMA? Twombly is definitely “an acquired taste, even within the art world,” says curator Mark Rosenthal, who tried to do a Twombly retrospective a few years ago while at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—Twombly initially agreed but changed his mind in midstream. The National Endowment for the Arts refused to give a grant to the current show, and the Modern was unable to line up a major corporate sponsor.
Twombly is famously difficult and famously elusive, and this has not made his work any easier to see. Ever since the disastrous 1964 show of his Commodus paintings at the Castelli Gallery in New York—their fervid painterliness seemed out of step with the hard-edged commercial imagery of Pop Art, then in ascendance, and nothing was sold—he has shown infrequently in this country. “Cy just evaporated,” according to Leo Castelli. Twombly has avoided exclusive commitments with any dealer, preferring to control the distribution of his rare new paintings through one or two close associates, and much of his major work is in European, not American, collections.
Twombly goes off to another part of the house, leaving us alone with the painting. In addition to Summer, there are three other unstretched canvases nailed to the walls of his studio, part of a second series on the same Quattro Stagioni theme. Twombly often paints a subject more than once: There are four versions of Leda and the Swan, two of the School of Athens, two of Birth of Venus.) His worktables are covered with oil crayons; pencils; tubes of pigment; postcard reproductions of boats and marine scenes; a big Manet art book open to a page that shows a boat painting; stacks of other art books (Ensor, Whistler, Turner); and a book of modern Greek poems in translation, turned to George Seferis’s Three Secret Poems. Several lines of one stanza have been altered by Twombly, with some words inked out. A section of the edited and spliced poem (with a few new words added by Twombly) is written on the canvas of Summer, in Twombly’s inimitable, childish scrawl:

“the shard of white . . .
trembling with white light
with white flat sea
distant in memory
between the deluge of life
our dearest, our white youth
our white, our snow white youth
that is infinity . . .”

Twombly’s paintings often seem to be as much written as painted. His spindly, meandering letters and words can evoke memory and emotion with the power of Chinese calligraphy, but their effect is never literary—the words work within the visual field of a master painter. And Twombly has never painted better than in his Four Seasons series. The paint is luscious, active, full of violent movement. The image of a spectral boat with oars, which recurs throughout the series, is gray in Summer, but hot yellows and reds predominate—sun colors, on a mostly white or unpainted ground. The cut-up lines of poetry appear and disappear, run down one side of the canvas, sometimes partially smudged or painted over. It’s vintage Twombly, aggressive, hesitant, tough, nervous, scatological, poetic, complex, playful, ancient, up-to-the-minute, intensely personal, and grand—a bundle of contradictory impulses that miraculously work together.

Comparisons are inevitable between Twombly’s Four Seasons and Jasper Johns’s four paintings on the same theme, which were done between 1985 and 1986. Twombly had been thinking about the seasons theme for a long time. He played with it in earlier works, such as the 1961 Empire of Flora and the four-panel 1977 Bacchanalia, and in recent years, as the main emphasis in his work has shifted from history and myth to nature, he became drawn to what is, after all, one of the great themes of European art. “All of Jasper’s seasons look like winter,” Twombly says with a sly chuckle. “Mine all look like summer.”

That may have been the way they started, but it’s not true any longer. Autunno is saturated with the deep reds and throbbing purples of the wine harvest; it has the word Silenus, the wine god, written across it, and, near the right edge, the words pure wild sex. This is a long way from the stately black-and-yellow Inverno, and the raspy yellows and reds of Primavera, a raw rite of spring, with jagged boat shapes up and down the middle. The day after he finally finished the last in the series, Twombly told me, “My head is completely burning up. All I’m doing is seeing yellow. I wake up in the morning, and the white walls look yellow. I had a great deal of trouble with Summer. At a certain point I was ready to throw in the brush. But I got crazy in a good way here.” By this time, however, the painting my husband and I had seen no longer existed. Twombly had decided to start over on a fresh canvas. I went to see it the day it arrived in New York. You could still smell the paint. It was simpler than the previous one, and much more liquid, wet and runny, with molten streaks of red and yellow and orange. “High on light” was scrawled on the left side in red, “how the dizziness/slipped away/like a fish in the/sea.”

Two days before the trip to Gaeta, in Twombly’s apartment on the via Monserrato in Rome, we had seen a quartet of paintings on the four seasons by an anonymous seventeenth-century Italian mannerist, part of Twombly’s wide-ranging and eccentric collection. Also two huge dark eighteenth-century landscapes by John Wootton, whom Twombly described as the English artist who introduced the work of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin to England. “I look at a lot of artists,’ ” he says. “I’m inspired by—I suppose I shouldn’t say ‘inspired,’ but it’s not really influenced. I am inspired. Art comes from art.” Classical busts of Apollo, Venus, Marcus Aurelius, and other worthies stand on pedestals in the rather grandiose, white-walled rooms of the Rome apartment, where the furniture looks as though it never gets much use.

Twombly started buying antiquities on his first visit to Rome, with Robert Rauschenberg, in 1952. “He spent my half of our grant on Roman sculpture,” according to Rauschenberg. “So I had to go off and get a job with Atlas Construction in Casablanca.” Twombly quit buying classical antiquities a few years ago. “New York decorators started putting a classical torso in every room, and it became impossible,” he says. But when we walk with him in Rome, he constantly stops to look at objects in shop windows—a malachite clock, a tiny piano (“It must have been Mozart’s first”), a miniature sarcophagus with a lapis top (“It’s not very good lapis. The best lapis comes from Afghanistan”). His eagle eye for quality deceives some people into thinking of him as a great decorator, but his various domestic interiors, striking as they are, have almost nothing to do with decoration, or with comfort, either. They all have the transient look of spaces that are used primarily for work.

When Twombly and Rauschenberg were together at Black Mountain College, they were exposed to what their fellow student Francine du Plessix Gray describes as a “grab bag” approach to world culture. “We were reading Ezra Pound’s Guide to Kulchur and then Virgil because Pound tells you to read Virgil and Fenollosa on Japanese art and Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground and Leo Frobenius on African rock painting and Pausanias’s Description of Greece. This sort of nativist American grab-bag attitude reminds me very much of the cultural map implied in Cy’s paintings.”
It might also be said to describe the kind of restless life that Twombly has chosen to lead. For years now, he has spent very little time in Rome. He owns a sixteenth-century villa in Bassano, near the gardens of Bomarzo, an hour north of Rome. Many of his paintings and drawings have been done during temporary stays in other places he likes—Sperlonga, Mykonos, the Seychelles, Robert Rauschenberg’s house on Captiva Island in Florida, an Italian friend’s villa in Bolsena. He travels all the time, sometimes with his wife, Tatiana, who nevertheless leads a highly independent life of her own, and whose hobby is collecting old rosebushes—she was on a rose hunt in Turkistan at the time of our visit to Gaeta. (Their 34-year-old son, Alessandro, who is also a painter, collects iris tubers.) “I fall in love with places,” Twombly tells us. He fell in love with Paris a few years back, rented and furnished an apartment there, but never stayed in it; he found he preferred his circular corner room at the Left Bank Hôtel de la Louisiane. “Simone de Beauvoir lived there. Sartre, too, but of course he went home to mama every night, like a good French writer.”

Last year he rediscovered Lexington, Virginia, where he grew up. He recently bought a house in the town and now spends several months a year there. “I’m like an old dog who’s come home to die. I see people I grew up with, but I can’t talk about old times with them. I can’t remember any of that. It’s not a nostalgic trip for me.” His father, a coach and, later, athletic director at Washington and Lee University there, had acquired the nickname Cy (after the legendary pitcher Cy Young) when he pitched for the Chicago White Sox one summer. He passed it on to his only son, who showed no enthusiasm for organized athletics. Cy’s parents came from old-line New England families—as a boy, he used to visit his grandparents in Bar Harbor, Boston, and Palm Beach—and a sense of that old American aristocracy is never far from the surface of his laconic, laid-back personality. “When he moved to Italy, I think he was recovering that aristocracy that he always felt by nature,” says Rauschenberg. “I couldn’t forget that he couldn’t forget it.”

Twombly has always been a loner. Unlike most successful artists these days, he has no studio assistants and wants nobody around when he’s working. This sometimes leads to odd working habits. “One Twombly I really love is called Untitled, 1958,” says cult-film director John Waters. “It’s all on the very bottom of the painting. It looks like the artist climbed up a ladder, but it was hung so high he could only reach the very bottom. He barely managed a scribble, hardly a mark. And then he fell off the ladder and died. I love art that does that, that makes people crazy.” Waters wasn’t just fantasizing, as it turns out. “I just finished a big painting, sixteen meters long and four meters high, that I’ve been working on, off and on, for ten years,” Twombly tells me. “It’s hard for me to get up on a ladder because I’m all alone in the studio. I could fall off and be lying on the floor for days. So most things happen at the bottom of the painting.”

Twombly answers his own phone—when and if he feels like it. Friends used to reach him by letting his number ring twice, hanging up, and dialing again, but that system is no longer operative. He hates being interviewed or photographed, rules out tape recorders or notebooks, and balks at any sort of direct questions about his life or his painting. (He agreed to teach a philosophy seminar at Washington and Lee last spring and chose his own subject: the idea of metamorphosis. But he quit after one session because the students “asked too many questions.”) He’s definitive in his likes and dislikes—good, unpretentious trattorias over four-star showplaces; espresso in a glass (“It tastes much smoother than in porcelain, like tea tastes better from a china than a silver pot”); shirts and underpants from Brooks Brothers; white linen pants from “Banana” (he means Banana Republic); Bass loafers because “they’re the only ones who make the nonshiny kind”; a 1940s white double-breasted whipcord jacket that he found at a thrift shop. He reads for two or three hours every day in his eclectic fashion—history, poetry, travel books, Walter Pater’s essays, Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy. He’s never liked the process of printmaking, “because you have to work with all those other people.” He doesn’t want to think of himself as a professional painter (the aristocratic prejudice again), and he works only when he feels like it—sometimes months will go by when he doesn’t paint. He hates to make plans or schedules, moves from place to place on impulse, doesn’t always show up when he’s invited somewhere. “Cy says he’ll be there in half an hour,” Rauschenberg quips, “but he doesn’t say which month.”

Twombly has always been astute about placing his work, and now it is about to become much more visible in the United States, and not just at the Modern. Fifty Days at lliam, his ten-part painting on the theme of the Trojan War, has been on permanent display since 1989, in a space of its own, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Cy is aware that he misspelled Iliam—it should be Ilium. He laughs off the story that he once said, “My painting isn’t getting better, but my spelling is.”) The Menil Collection in Houston is building a special addition that will be, in effect, a one-man Twombly museum, although Twombly, who designed the floor plan in collaboration with architect Renzo Piano, prefers to call it a gallery; the inauguration will be next February, when MoMA’s Twombly show comes to Houston. The Dia Center for the Arts in New York, which has a large collection of Twombly’s work, plans to install most of it in 1996 in a newly created space on West Twenty-second Street. Twombly has been generous with these institutions because they are so obviously dedicated to his work, but there is no doubt who calls the shots and controls the way his work will be seen. Asked whom to go to for a new Twombly painting, he replies, “I have them.”

Twombly is showing us his garden in Gaeta, a terraced landscape on the hill above the house. It’s a series of what he calls stanze segrete, “secret rooms,” each defined by a different tree—pleached lindens, lemon trees, square-and-cone-shaped laurels, orange trees—with hedges of olive and laurel. It’s a green garden with no flowers. “I hate roses,” he says. “Don’t you? It’s all right if you can hide them in a cutting garden, but I think a rose garden is the height of ick.” Each “room” has stunning views of the sea and of the two ancient castles on the next hill. The red-tile roofs of his own house are directly below. “I love that,” he drawls. “It looks like an Arab village.” He is less pleased with the church next door. “It’s a hideous nineteenth- century Victorian church,” he says, “where everybody wants to get married.”

We walk down the hill for lunch at his favorite local trattoria. It’s full of large families enjoying Sunday dinner. “Sit over there,” he tells me, “so you won’t have to look at the babies.” Kids run in and out and between the tables, getting into fights. “Alessandro was such a good child,” Twombly says ruefully. “If you sent him out to play, he’d send back a note saying, ‘I’m in the garden.’ ” I make the mistake of trying to get him to talk about his New England family (without asking any direct questions), and the undercurrent of irritation that has been building up in him suddenly erupts. “I swear if I had to do this over again, I would just do the paintings and never show them. And then after I’m dead, they could talk about them all they want. I’m just not interested in myself that way. I was brought up to think you don’t talk about yourself. I hate all this. Why should I have to talk about the paintings. I do them, isn’t that enough?”
The storm passes, and we finish lunch. Walking through town afterward, along the seawall, Twombly is friendly and conversational, pointing out the thirteenth-century campanile with its Moorish inlaid tiles and saying how much better the town would look if the houses were all painted white. Twombly has made the ancient world of the Mediterranean his own. He likes to say that he has no sense of time. “Sometimes when I’m writing the date on a letter, I have to ask what year it is.” He talks about the illustrated books he wants to do after he gets through the “anguish” of the Modern show. Some years ago, he did illustrations for the Odes of Horace and for Edmund Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender. “I like bucolic poetry,” he says. “Theocritus, Virgil. I’m from an agrarian part of the country. Although I wouldn’t do it if I was in America. When I used to spend time in Bassano, you could still see shepherds tending flocks of goats. Once I actually saw one throw himself down under a tree and play a flute. It still lives here, that Mediterranean world. And nothing that’s living is old to me.”

Fashion’s Mike Nichols Moment

WORKING GIRL (1988)

“Tess, this is business.” Georgina Chapman as Sigourney Weaver and Keren Craig as Melanie Griffith.

 
 

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (1966)

“You’re not man enough. You haven’t the guts” Winona Ryder’s Elizabeth Taylor with Marc Jacobs’s Richard Burton

 
 

THE GRADUATE (1967)

“Mrs. Robinson, you’re… trying to seduce me”. Prabal Gurung’s Dustin Hoffman with Diane von Furstenberg’s Anne Bancroft

 
 

Photos by Mark Seliger. Harper’s Bazaar, February, 2011

Liz and Dick’s Private Lives

Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth Taylor and Dominic West as Richard Burton in “Burton and Taylor” (Richard Laxton, 2013), a BBC film about this legendary couple.

 
 

The melancholic Burton and Taylor stars Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West, and it focuses specifically on a few weeks in 1983 when the two, divorced and in their 50s, reunited professionally to star in Noël Coward’s Private Lives on Broadway.

Eschewing the height of Le Scandale, Burton and Taylor focuses on a quieter, less-sexy, less-triumphant moment in the pair’s love story. They are middle-aged, dancing to disco, not sleeping together, in relationships with other people, ensconced in various addictions, and, as celebrities, well into the trashy phase of their fame, a state of being the staging of Private Lives did nothing to remediate. Private Lives is a comedy about a divorced couple, newly married to other people, who passionately, dysfunctionally fall back into bed together, a tale that, obviously, tracked closely with the real story of Burton and Taylor. (In the play, as in life, the woman Burton left for Taylor was named Sybil.)

In Burton and Taylor, Burton is frustrated by the parallels: He insists that Taylor not play to the crowd, not winkingly acknowledge that the audience is there to see Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, not their characters, in bed. But Taylor takes the opposite view, arguing that if that’s what the audience wants to see, then that’s what the audience should get. Simply by existing, Burton and Taylor takes Taylor’s side of the argument: What, after all, is the appeal of a movie like Burton and Taylor except as front row seat to Liz and Dick’s private lives?