“We are living in a post-mortem period of art.”
On the 5th July 2011, Cy Twombly died in hospital in Rome at the age of 83. On the 20th July 2011, Lucian Freud died in London at the age of 88.
Two great artists – Cy Twombly and Lucian Freud – have both recently passed away. How do you feel when masters of this calibre die?
Sadness! Sadness for their deaths and because it could happen to me at any moment. And I find this to be unjust.
It’s simple. People who have so much talent and irreplaceable ability shouldn’t die. When I read the biographies of important people like Mozart, I think that he could have done so much more in his life and yet so much has gone, irremediably lost. So there’s indignation along with the sadness.
Indignation? Really? Why?
I don’t understand why this terrible disease called death hasn’t been cured yet. It’s an illness just like the common cold, but the specific medicine for it hasn’t yet been invented. All of science and all of the scientists should focus on the immortality of the body. And to think we die now just as we died at the time of cavemen. Except today it is decidedly more old-fashioned.
But great artists like Freud or Twombly are guaranteed immortality through their works…
It’s true in terms of their artistic immortality, but, unfortunately, the problem of physical immortality still remains.
In any case, their masterpieces can be seen all throughout the world.
I know. There’s no doubt about that. It’s such a shame that it creates still more indignation inside of me because each masterpiece is like a taste of the next masterpiece, and with the death of the creator, the risk is that these pieces will, on the other hand, become absolute masterpieces. It’s truly a contradiction because by its very nature, a masterpiece is nothing more than a preparatory work for the next masterpiece. And, in terms of great artists, there are very few in each generation and in each century.
So, in your opinion, will Freud and Twombly survive?
I would think so. I consider them to be opposites from an artistic point of view. Twombly can be found inside the act of painting. However with Freud there’s a sort of externalisation of the way of interpreting painting that goes so far as to touch upon a hyperrealism that can be found on the complete opposite end of the painting spectrum. The fact that two styles that are so opposite from one another can both be successful explains the complexity of the historical and artistic moment we are going through. The complexity is uncertainty. We are living in a post-mortem period of art. It’s a bit like we have gone into overtime because – continuing with the football match analogy – regular game time has run out.
Twombly and Lucian Freud. Were they two great artists?
It would seem they were. I am not able to step outside of myself and see things with objective, “uncorrupted” eyes. I am too wrapped up in my own art, which at the same time, is my point of view on art.
Which of the two artists do you feel closer to?
Perhaps Twombly for reasons that are almost geographical. He masterfully took on the mythology and unspeakable nature of the mystery of central Italy.
What are you referring to?
I am talking about the pagan and mythological mystery of the lower Lazio and upper Tuscany regions. Twombly clearly took inspiration from Lake Bolsena.
Who are your true masters or gurus?
Do the land, the local territory, and one’s birthplace count a lot for an artist?
These things count a lot because this is where our roots are planted.
Cy Twombly was an American who was in voluntary exile in Italy, while Lucian Freud was driven out of Berlin with his family by the Nazis. He went on to become an English citizen. Very different destinies.
You never abandon your roots. But Freud was more Austrian than German, and in his work one glimpses a cruelty that is typically Central European. It makes me think of Musil and of humanity laid bare. That’s what Freud’s grandfather Sigmund did – bring out the darkness in human beings, and this partially brings us back to Italo Svevo. The Viennese were a Germanic tribe that extended to Trieste. Cy Twombly, on the other hand, was intimately American.
What does that mean?
It doesn’t really mean anything because America is a jumble of stories. It goes from African-American to Spanish-American to Italian-American. Twombly was French-American, so he was a bit European. In any case, New York is the capital of Europe. Twombly was an expatriate, but he spoke about Europe the way Hemingway spoke about Paris or Spain. Out of sorts but still at home.
What about you?
Perhaps my value is in having been born in Florence. Amerigo Vespucci was Florentine and he gave America its name. There’s a healthy imperialism in being Florentine because you take your own civilisation elsewhere.
24th July, 2011