Cy Twombly

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To call them scribbles is both inappropriate and perfect. The word implies something easily dismissed, but it also tells you something about the deliberate, childlike crudeness of Cy Twombly's work. Twombly, an unassuming titan of American painting, died July 5 at 83. Born in Virginia, he left the U.S. for Italy in 1957 to be closer to classical inspiration. There, he developed the emotive lines characteristic of his work--simultaneously complex and elementary, distancing and intimate. "It's more like I'm having an experience than making a picture," he once reflected.

From the start, Twombly's style often polarized the public and disconcerted critics. A 1964 New York City show proved disastrous. One stinging review disparaged his collection, saying, "There isn't anything to these paintings." Time, however, proved that claim foolish, as Twombly became one of America's most admired artists and a primary inspiration for neo-Expressionist painters in the 1980s and '90s. A 1994 essay published by New York's Museum of Modern Art argued for his artistic worth, saying, regardless of how the work may have appeared, "No, your kid could not do this."