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Graphic design and Illustration
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Graduation Project: "Berthing the Temeraire" 

When the AGNSW recently acquired Cy Twombly’s ‘Three Studies for a Temeraire’ there was a small flurry of criticism decrying it as a ‘waste of money’, that it was acquired with private revenue and donations rather than public funds was ignored in peoples haste to denounce it. There is a good opportunity then to help people appreciate the work more so that it may be seen instead as an asset.

The aim of this project is to enhance audience appreciation of the Cy Twombly artwork by opening it up to a wider audience and meshing it firmly within the psyche of the arts community. This should be done in a way that allows people to engage with the work intellectually and in a meaningful manner so that it becomes more than mere ‘eye candy’.

I believe that the Cy Twombly painting has many qualities to it that are well suited to Sydney and having only recently arrived would benefit from being ‘berthed’ into the fabric of Sydney and merged into the psyche of the general public. Its modernity, colour, light and nautical aspects match nicely to Sydney’s character.

A range of interpretive cards were created in order to explore some of the various aspects that could comprise an understand of Cy Twombly’s painting. Aspects such as the history of the Temeraire, Twombly’s artistic process, the relationship to Turner’s work, the Mediterranean, the relevance to Sydney and Australia with links to Pollock’s Blue Poles were all some of the angles in which the work was interpreted analytically. In expressive terms there were references to the jewellery and musical interpretations as well as notes for a piece of writing.

Berthing the Temeraire -  Postcards

Berthing the Temeraire -  Postcards

For this project I have used the concept of ekphrasis to explore the artwork and its potential relationship with audiences.  

Ekphrasis is how it seemed to you, it’s a subjective description of your experience of something seen. Ekphrasis has also been defined as an art form influence by another art form through description, inclusion of inspiration.

This concept acts as a strong philosophical notion that drives how the project can and should work to achieve a personal ekphrasis to the artwork from those who engage with it.

Visually the concept driving this project would be brought back to the Cy Twombly painting and the qualities inherent in it such as the texture and the artistic process defined in a strong sense of the expressive brushstroke, light in terms of colour and weight and the liquidity of subject and the flow of paint across its surface with a sense of ethereal floating.

The concept of Ekphrasis is an appropriate means by which to look at this project as it relates to the design problem as a natural means by which it can be solved as it focuses on the individuals response to the artwork, making art relevant on a personal subjective level.

It also suits the Cy Twombly work as it is in itself an object of the Ekphrasis project being a response to J M W Turner’s ‘The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her Last Berth to be broken up’.

Whilst commenced as an independent work, Twombly’s triptych became a natural response to the Turner work and was displayed at the National Gallery’s exhibition ‘Encounters: new art from old (the greatest artists from our time converse with the greatest artists of all time).

Cy Twombly, Turner and the Temeraire

Cy Twombly, Turner and the Temeraire

As part of the Ekphrasis process possibilities were explored for how the painting could be expressed in other artistic mediums. Jewellery and Music emerged as particularly interesting fields to enable an enriched experience of the painting. Jewellery offers the capacity for engaging with the subtle aesthetics and beauty of the work. Music enables the rhythm and sense of passage and movement the painting evokes to be expressed.

Each jewellery piece was constructed from a wax model of either purple wax or blue wax. The purple wax models were carved and melted over flame allowing a natural dripping to shape their form. The blue wax models were formed by floating wax wires on water and exposed to flame to melt and fuse the pieces together. Both methods were informed by the general structure of Twombly’s boats whilst allowing an element of automatism and chance to create a fluid painterly interpretive expression of the work without slavishly copying the original.

From numerous wax models three pieces were selected to be cast into silver. The central piece was cast from purple wax and is a heavier piece with a heavy anchor link chain, after casting it was exposed to heavy flame to bring out some of the impurities in the silver and give it an archaic dragged out of the sea finish. The other two lighter pieces cast from blue wax were give a more polished finish with the emphasis on the lighter aspects of Twombly’s brushstrokes. 

Each of the Cy Twombly jewellery pieces is presented in its own box showcasing the piece with an explanation card explaining the process of making it. The box also frames a detail from the original painting that shows how that piece has been inspired and responds to Twombly’s brushstrokes.

The form of the masts of the boat were suggestive of musical notes with stems rising up to fat expressive notes, the array of them across the panels also enhancing a musicality to their structure. These elements of the painting were then used as the basis for constructing a concept for a musical score. The final outcome appears to be entirely illegible as conventional music and instead invites the musician or composer to interpret these marks in the same random manner in which Twombly formed his expression of the Temeraire.

Berthing the Temeraire - the symphony

Berthing the Temeraire - the symphony

Berthing the Temeraire - the jewellery boxes

Berthing the Temeraire - the jewellery boxes

Berthing the Temeraire - the necklaces

Berthing the Temeraire - the necklaces