Ceramicist Edmund de Waal explains how Cy Twombly’s photographs turn everyday objects into haunting testimonies.
I didn’t know these photographs. But looking at them spanning a wall of a light-filled gallery, I felt the extraordinary presence of the man who took them, the late American artist Cy Twombly. He inhabits them. Spending time thinking about why this should be, I kept returning to the way he shapes memory. His paintings and sculptures keep alive very particular moments in their making, the inscribing, daubing, and scratching onto paper, canvas, and plaster, the sticking and tearing and collaging. His work is a glorious list of transitive verbs, an iterative inhabitation of the present moment. I’m here, says this art, here and now. And all to bring into this moment a sense of time, stretching from here to Apollo, through his own memory of music and poetry, architecture and painting.
And memory is at the heart of these photographs. They span 55 years, from the early photographs of Robert Rauschenberg’s Combine Material in the Fulton Street studio – cloth, wood, and detritus heaped, piled, and stacked in anticipation – to moments of sky, a cloud touched by pink and grey, taken just a few months before his death. His photographs of bouquets of flowers left on a grave, Polaroid lilies and roses, are particular to a moment of privacy staged in public. The flowers, poignant in their extravagance, become a kind of testimony. In the image of a yard sale in Lexington – a jumbled collection of abandoned objects, a watermelon, a jar of marbles, kitchen implements – objects become as memorialised as Homer’s thousand ships.