Today is the birthday of American artist, Edwin Parker Twombly, Jr., better know as Cy. The well-known painter and sculptor, whose work existed somewhere between abstract expressionism, minmalism and pop art, would turn 85 years old if he were still alive today.

The artist spent time studying at the Art Students League where he met Robert Rauschenberg, and soon made his way to Black Mountain College where he encountered more famous names like Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell. His heavy dose of American arts education was followed by years of traveling Europe; in Rome, he absorbed the traditions of Greek and Roman mythology that would influence his work for years to come, although he would be praised and taken to task for his "ironic posture," as James Hall writes in the Times Literary Supplement.

cy twombly


Twombly is known for his large-scale, calligraphic-esque paintings that melded aspects of graffiti art and abstraction in a style all his own. From his massive portrayals of flowers to his sculptures built from discarded materials, there is always a whiff of symbolism lingering below the surface of his works, no doubt a nod to his past career as a cryptologist.

Roland Barthes wrote that culture for Twombly was "an ease, a memory, an irony, a posture, the gesture of a dandy." His affectations and gestures were scrutinized to such a degree that it could fill volumes, although perhaps we're barking up the wrong tree if we take Twombly at his word. As Rosalind Krauss writes in Artforum: "To what degree is it our responsibility to make an independent reading of an artist's work, acknowledging that while an artist may be a good interpreter of his or he own production, it does not follow that he or she will be its best one..." In fact, she argues, "the analysand is often the worst." When encountering Twombly's work, it's probably best to forge our own path rather than rely on the artist or critics to provide the answers.

In celebration of the late, great Twombly, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 83, we've put together a selection of some of his best works. Scroll through the slideshow to see pieces like "Ceiling" and more, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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  • The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition Previews In Its 241st year

    LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 03: A gallery employee looks at a piece of work entitled The Rose III by artist Cy Twombly at the Royal Academy of Arts on June 3, 2009 in London, England. The exhibition is in it's 241st year, and displays a wide range of recent work by both established and emerging artists. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

  • Visitors look at a work by US artist Cy

    Visitors look at a work by US artist Cy Twombly during the 'Sensations of the Moment' exhibition at the Mumok museum in Vienna on June 2, 2009. Twombly's works of art in abstract expressionism will be displayed at the Mumok museum until October 11, 2009. AFP PHOTO/Samuel Kubani (Photo credit should read SAMUEL KUBANI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Visitors walk past US artist Cy Twombly'

    Visitors walk past US artist Cy Twombly's 'Rose' series at the Brandhorst museum in Munich December 15, 2009. The Brandhorst Museum was opened on May 21, 2009 and displays about 200 exhibits from the modern art collection of the heirs of the Henkel trust Udo and Anette Brandhorst. In 2009 the Brandhorst Collection comprised more than 700 works. AFP PHOTO / JOHN MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Visitors sit in front of US artist Cy Tw

    Visitors sit in front of US artist Cy Twombly's 'Lepanto' series at the Brandhorst museum in Munich December 15, 2009. The Brandhorst Museum was opened on May 21, 2009 and displays about 200 exhibits from the modern art collection of the heirs of the Henkel trust Udo and Anette Brandhorst. In 2009 the Brandhorst Collection comprised more than 700 works. AFP PHOTO / JOHN MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A visitor stands in front of US artist C

    A visitor stands in front of US artist Cy Twombly's 'untitled (roses)' at the Brandhorst museum in Munich, southern Germany on March 9, 2010. The Brandhorst Museum was opened on May 21, 2009 and displays about 200 exhibits from the modern art collection of the heirs of the Henkel trust Udo and Anette Brandhorst. In 2009 the Brandhorst Collection comprised more than 700 works. AFP PHOTO DDP / JOERG KOCH GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read JOERG KOCH/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Art Dealer Larry Gagosian Gallery Opening In Paris

    PARIS - OCTOBER 19: In this handout picture provided by Gagosian Gallery, artworks by Cy Twombly are exhibited at Gagosian Gallery on October 19, 2010 in Paris, France. (Photo by Mike Bruce/Gagosian Gallery via Getty Images)

  • A gallery employee looks at the works 'F

    A gallery employee looks at the works 'Four Seasons' by US artist Cy Twombly at the Tate gallery in Liverpool, north-west England, on June 20, 2012. The works have been brought together to be exhibited with five of Monet's greatest water lily paintings in the exhibition 'Turner, Monet, Twombly: Later Paintings'. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/GettyImages)

  • An Emirati guide describes an untitled piece by American artist Cy Twombly which is part of a sample collection at the Abu Dhabi branch of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, April 16, 2013. No artistic subjects will be off limits at the Abu Dhabi branch of the Louvre museum as it builds its collection for a planned 2015 opening, a top overseer said Tuesday, in a city seeking to broaden its international profile but testing how far to open its conservative culture. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

  • A picture taken on March 23, 2010 in Par

    A picture taken on March 23, 2010 in Paris, shows a painted ceiling, an immense work by American painter Cy Twombly at the Salle des Bronzes, one of the oldest sections of the Louvre museum. Twombly's ceiling is an abstract composition on a blue background complementing Georges Braque�s ceiling in the adjoining gallery. AFP PHOTO FRANCOIS GUILLOT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)

  • American painter Cy Twombly is pictured

    American painter Cy Twombly is pictured on March 23, 2010 in Paris, with his painted ceiling, an immense work presented at the Salle des Bronzes, one of the oldest sections of the Louvre museum. Twombly's ceiling is an abstract composition on a blue background complementing Georges Braque�s ceiling in the adjoining gallery. AFP PHOTO FRANCOIS GUILLOT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)