As Randy Kennedy's obituary on the front page of the New York Times today repeatedly points out, the critics attacked Cy Twombly's doodly paintings for years and years. People who didn't care for the Twombly mythos, such as yours truly, suspected everything about him. Putting it sort of harshly, Twombly was a no-talent elitist closet case who shamelessly borrowed high cultural references from Homer to Cavafy to justify ugly undisciplined blobs of house paint gagging the senses for mural-sized stretches of canvas which mindless idiots, hiding behind the loose skirts of Twombly's pretentions, overpaid for, making the artist superrich and amplifying his phony, grandiose indulgences.
Guess what? No one ever laid a glove on Twombly, a large ungainly Virginia general ungrazed by cannon, grapeshot, sword or dagger. This is why artists loved him. Even stupid old Twombly-hating me received numerous emails from veteran painters yesterday who reacted to Cy's passing like self-flagellating devotees of the Blessed Mother walking the Via Delarosa.
Painters everywhere feel vulnerable about their next mark, which soon passes into a lifetime body of work which fills, looking backward, even the most talented of them with self-doubt. Twombly never wavered from his love for his own creations (in this, he was much like other egoists such as Jim Dine and Lucas Samaras). Cy's every excess, as the critics perceived them, were to him, exercises in tasteful self-restraint.
The market duly rewarded him, especially in the 1980s when Twombly's squiggly cat-scratch vortexes on blackboards were the nirvana of every evening sale. Andy Warhol or Pablo Picasso were never applauded the way these works were, when the hammer came down on a record price for a blackboard piece: standing ovations every time
From such operatic acclamation was Twombly's legitimacy forged and he died smiling on a long pink, blobby cloud, a lifetime of privately felt satisfactions.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).