Cy Twombly, Whose Work Is Known for Childlike Scribbles and Erasures, Dies at 83

He remained defiantly out of vogue with the post-war American art movement but became one of the era's most important painters.

Artist Cy Twombly, whose signature pieces included childlike scribbles and who remained stubbornly out of vogue with post-war American art while becoming one of the era's most important painters, died Tuesday in Rome. He was 83.

Twombly had suffered from cancer, but the cause of death was not immediately available, the New York Times reported. His death was announced by the Gagosian Gallery, which represents his work.

Said Larry Gagosian in a statement: "The art world has lost a true genius and a completely original talent, and for those fortunate enough to have known him, a great human being. We will not soon see a talent of such amazing scope and intensity. Even though Cy might have been regarded as reclusive, he didn't retreat to an ivory tower. He was happy to remain connected and live in the present. Despite his increasing fame, he never lost the playfulness and sense of humor that was his true nature and, more importantly, he retained his humility. For me personally, it is an incredibly sad day and my thoughts are with Cy's family and close friends."

Twombly, a divisive artist, didn't fit into many easily definable categories but mostly worked in abstractionism. He works were marked by scratches, drips and erasures, among other signature touches.

In fact, he seemingly made a point to remain steadfastly in the opposite direction of where the art world was shifting throughout his career, including his decision to settle in southern Italy in the late 1950s while everyone else was shifting from Europe to New York. But he also avoided publicity and mostly ignored his critics.

“There are a few drips and splatters and an occasional pencil line,” writer Donald Judd wrote in a review after a 1964 exhibition. “There isn’t anything to these paintings.”

Despite the early naysaying, he ultimately earned a place as one of the 20th century's most important painters in abstraction, with younger artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat finding inspiration in Twombly's work in the 1980s. Around that time, critics came around, and Twombly became a highly sought-after artist by museums and collectors in both Europe and the United States.

In 1989, the Philadelphia Museum of Art opened a permanent exhibition dedicated to Twombly's 10-painting cycle, Fifty Days at Iliam, based on Alexander Pope’s translation of the Iliad. He also sold his first work for more than $1 million that same year.

Six years later, Houston's Menil Collection opened a new gallery dedicated to his work.