The profound influence of Egyptian art and architecture is widely felt in Twombly's sculpture. Its purity of form based on fixed proportions and rigid planar representations of the human body translates beautifully in Twombly's reductive visual language. Thin wooden boards joined at sharp angles suggest the geometrically derived stride of Egyptian statuary as in two works of 1980, Untitled (right) and Untitled,1980. Unlike the strict formal grids to which such statuary adheres, however, Twombly's assemblages can seem imprecise, with segments slightly awry, as though they have begun to decay. This is also true of many of his sculptures that refer to architectural ruins. In the case of Ctesiphon, Twombly's precarious arch appears as withering and unsteady as its source, the remnants of a Sasanian palace in the ancient city of Ctesiphon, located in modern-day Iraq.
(To F.P.) The Keeper of Sheep of 1992 is a work of slender verticals that suggests the human form. Its attenuated elements rise from a broad, flat "foot," that itself surmounts a rectangular box, recalling the work of another interpreter of Egyptian art, sculptor Alberto Giacometti. Its semblance to a staff is in keeping with the title that serves as a dedication to Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese poet who composed The Keeper of Sheep, a collection of forty-nine poems, in 1914. The title poem reads in part: "I never kept sheep, / But it's as if I'd done so. / My soul is like a shepherd. / It knows wind and sun / Walking hand in hand with the Seasons / Observing, and following along." The shepherd, in his nomadic freedom and his role as a caretaker, is a surrogate for the artist.
Copyright © 2008 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC