|Sally Mann, Untitled (Slippers and Flare), 2005|
For Paris art lovers, the exhibition of Sally Mann’s photographs of Cy Twombly’s Lexington studio at Gagosian’s project space is a must. The images are taken both while Twombly is alive and since his death. Remembered Light: Cy Twombly in Lexington is a subtle and rare taste of a kind of photography that doesn’t always work out: one artist representing the work of another through a different medium.
What is so extraordinary about Mann’s photographs is her use of her camera to do in photography what Twombly does in painting – only differently because it is photography. Moreover, Mann does this without losing either the integrity of her photography or that of Twombly’s paintings. She makes photographs that echo, but do not reproduce the paintings. Though they exist, it is rare to see the delicate, ethereal paintings for which Twombly is now renown in Remembered Light. Rather, Mann photographs the space in which they were created, the walls on which they once hung, the objects that inspired them, and the materials that fabricated them. Mann’s photographs are inspired by Twombly’s life and his art, but they do not document either. Neither does Mann use Twombly’s studio in Lexington and the objects inside it as a way to explore her own self-facing concerns. The photographs come together with the space and Twombly’s life to create something new, something Mann sees on the walls, in the air that fills the space, caressed by light.
|Sally Mann, Remembered Light, Untitled (Light on Wall), 2012|
Mann’s are photographs about light, time and the everyday. In them, we see light create space, we see time passing on the walls through the paint left over, on the skirting board, as it has dripped off the canvas that once hung on the wall during the day. The tears of different colored paint on the skirting boards remind us of the traces left by Twombly’s hand as it moved across the painted canvas. Mann writes in her memoir, Hold Still, about the very earliest photographic sessions in Twombly’s studio. She describes how the light fell through the cheap louver blinds onto a linoleum floor to create the space of the studio. And then over time, Twombly’s collection of objects, curiosities, pictures and things, blocked the light to create the space of the studio anew. We see this transformation across photographs taken in the late 1990s of a space filled by light reflected on walls, to those at the end of Twombly’s life twenty years later in which the complication of a life lived in the space interrupts the same light.
For those of us who adore Cy Twombly’s painting for their mystery, the surprise of the images is also in the banality of the space they witness. The great artist had his American studio in a store front on the main street of Lexington Virginia. Almost incidental, yet overwhelmingly central to Mann’s images is the everydayness of the life of the space in which some of Twombly’s most ethereal and mystical works were made. In addition to the louver blinds and the cheap linoleum floor, the chairs are plastic, the air conditioning unit a very primitive model, and all fixtures are yellowing, left over from the previous owners. Twombly’s slippers, neatly placed in the work room underline the everydayness of life at the studio. And yet we have no trouble reconciling this banality with the preciousness and ethereality of the artistic project produced in these walls. Because Mann makes the everyday of his studio beautiful. Just like Twombly makes the simplest vision into art, or drift wood into sculptural magnificence, so the space in the studio becomes filled with the richness of Mann’s vision. In the same way that she filled the landscapes of her native Virginia and Tennessee with the haunting deaths they saw during the civil war, so the complexity and inspiration of Twombly’s art and life haunt these photographs.
|Sally Mann, Remembered Light, Untitled (Angled Light), 1999-2000|
Mann has also infused Twombly’s studio space with an intimacy that we know from even his vast and monumental paintings. The detail of a skirting board from where the painting has been taken away, at the point where the wall meets the floor, gives us the impression of seeing the deepest, most vulnerable moment of the artist exposed. Similarly, that place where the is painting removed, leaves a meaningful blankness, an empty space filled by a vision of Twombly’s fastidious commitment to the orderly precision of painting.
Mann’s sensitivity as a photographer finds life and death and the essence of being human in the play and fall of light on and around Twombly’s space. In turn, the presence and absence of the painter and his paintings are pictured in the light of Mann’s photographs. And thus, in this extraordinary relationship between painting and photography, between life and death, light and dark, together the two of them, Mann and Twombly, make the commonplace, singular. Theirs is a vision that is mysteriously ungraspable and unabashedly everyday.
All images courtesy of Sally Mann/Gagosian