Traces of Virgil as a Chalk Giant: Ewa Monika Zebrowski’s Meditations on Cy Twombly — James D. Campbell

[Winter 2020]

It was the word beyond speech.
— Hermann Broch, The Death of Virgil

When the immense drugged universe explodes
In a cascade of unendurable colour
And leaves us gasping naked,
This is no more than the ecstasy of chaos:
Hold fast, with both hands, to that royal love
Which alone, as we know certainly, restores
Fragmentation into true being.
— Robert Graves, Ecstasy of Chaos

Gnarled orbs of yellow.
Like prehistoric fruit
ripened by the Mediterranean sun
in a Mediterranean garden,
— Ewa Zebrowski, Lemons

By James D. Campbell

Since 2014, noted Canadian artist Ewa Monika Zebrowski has been exploring the universe of artist Cy Twombly on both sides of the Atlantic. For those of us who were seduced by Zebrowski’s early Venetian photographs in homage to now-deceased poet Joseph Brodsky, her Twombly studies offer similar sustenance for eye and mind.1 Zebrowski once said that Brodsky’s writing was a catalyst for exploring, in the medium of photography, her own reflections on memory and personal history. So, too, her Twombly images and poems arise from autobiographical incidents and conjure a worthy scaffolding from which we can better appreciate his eloquent gestural high-wire acts of chalkboard-like scratching, chromatic smearing, and pigment clotting.

Twombly lived in Italy for fifty years, and Zebrowski spent time around his studio, his garden, and other cherished places from whence he drew inspiration, and her work richly adumbrates her vision of his rich and enduring legacy. She also spent untold hours looking at hundreds of his Polaroids, which were, for her, understandably something of a revelation. Of course, she had known his work for years. But the Polaroids spoke to her, and eloquently, too. This immersion was but one of the many that led her into the heart of his thinking, which she brilliantly evokes as she shadows him in a sort of parallel narrative fiction in which a gifted interpreter reaches for the stars…

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1 The project, remembering brodsky, had its inception when a friend lent Zebrowski Water? mark, a book on Venice written by Joseph Brodsky, who made many visits to the fabled city of canals, usually in winter. Brodsky was a Nobel Prize–winning poet and author who was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1972 and, after arriving in the United States, once served as American Poet Laureate.

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