Solar Power

In the next two paintings, Twombly attains visual heights he hasn't for years. First, the barge reappears in a gorgeous bonfire of honey-saffron yellow, surrounded by traces of other boats; in the next canvas, the mirage reaches full strength as a shadow armada comes into view and the sun pours in from above. In the penultimate work, the chimera turns emblematic: The barge becomes a simple line drawing and the words "Leaving Paphos ringed with waves" appear. This is the end of this phase of the vision, the last time it will manifest in pictorial form. In the last painting, the vibration solidifies: The Eros inscription returns, and everything crystallizes into an implacable black shape—an abstraction of all these experiences, expectations, dreams, and loves lost.

Luxurious and rotting: the fifth through eighth paintings in the Coronation of Sesostris suite at Gagosian
photo: Robin Holland
Luxurious and rotting: the fifth through eighth paintings in the Coronation of Sesostris suite at Gagosian

At 72, Twombly is less like the fecund Whitman than the reflective Emily Dickinson. She never left home; he never stopped roaming. Both are hypersensitive emotional mechanisms—human seismographs. Both are motivated by the incredible transporting power of the written word, uncontrollable feelings, and the desire to map the interior landscape of the soul. After years of seeming aloof, Twombly's finding ways to make it matter again.

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