top of page

Cy Twombly: A Closer Look At Note I (From Salalah)

Cy Twombly is an American post-war artist that occupies a place in the art world between Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. He is known for his spontaneous scribbling that evokes a free and dramatic painterly energy. Born in Virginia in 1928, he was a peer among artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Jackson Pollock. His artistic style was often influenced by children's doodlings, city graffiti and blackboard writings. His work introduced historical and mythological themes.

Cy Twombly, Note I, 2007, Lexington, Virginia, Acrylic on wooden panel, 243.8 x 365.8 cm (96 x 144 in). Courtesy of MoMA SF

The use of a large canvas creates an immersive experience for the viewer as the dark green that heavily occupies the canvas represents the lush greenery of the city where Twombly’s series gets its name. Salalah is the capital and largest city of the southern Ormani of Dhofar and this piece serves as the Twombly’s response to the city and its geography. The viewer may feel conflicted while viewing this piece, as the spontaneity and process are just as relevant as the subject matter. The subject that Twombly coded and alluded to in this piece is a city of antiquity and a source in which the artist held great admiration.

The size of the painting is very important as it shows the physical strain and effort put forth by the artist as he works with the canvas. The exertion of energy can be seen and is represented with every spontaneous brushstroke. The translucent and spontaneously placed white swirls are reminiscent of Arabic calligraphy, but also can be considered as abstract representations of the waves and natural occurrences of the area as it is based on a sense of place. Therefore, Twombly leads to connect calligraphic and abstract cursive script as a form of abstract landscape.

Spontaneity can also bring forth ideas of sensuality and aggression. This is suggested through the patchy and imperfect green background and the drip marks that materialized when layering the white washes of ‘script.’ Twombly uses these errant gestures to conjure the feeling of the impulse of the moment and suggest the creativity of the mind exploding onto the surface.

The Notes from Salalah series is reminiscent of Twombly’s, Blackboard series from the late 1960s to early 1970s, as the dark background and loose calligraphic style is revisited. In this collection, the artist remodels and masters a more exaggerated “pseudo writing” style shown through the enlargement and free-formed lines and marks. This series, therefore, marks the progression and growth of the artist's style and technique.

Sources: (2020). Cy Twombly, Note I, from the series III Notes from Salala…. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Mar. 2020].

Gagosian. (2020). Cy Twombly: Three Notes From Salalah, Rome, December 15, 2007–March 15, 2008 | Gagosian. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Mar. 2020]. (2020). Notes from Salalah | The Art Institute of Chicago. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Mar. 2020].

Rivkin, J. (2018). Chalk : The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly. New York: Melville House Publishing

Jacobus, M. (2016) Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.


bottom of page