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Mr Capon’s favourite

During the week I read the article in the Sydney Magazine (Sydney Morning Herald) about the pending retirement of long-time Director of the Art Gallery of NSW, Edmund Capon.

I’m not a dedicated ‘Edmund fan’ in the same way as some are, so I read with vague ambivalence until I got to the question about which piece in the collection Edmund Capon would most like to take home with him. His reply somewhat surprised me.

It is the Cy Twombly triptych Three Studies from the Temeraire to which he is most attached. This painting sits on the left wall in the main gallery on the entry level. It’s been there for ages and though it catches my eye it somehow fails to draw me near.

That is, until this morning. From a holiday destination with a view out over a river estuary I woke to see boats moored amongst the oyster leases with the line between the water and their reflection indistinguishable in the early morning light. At that moment in semi-slumber, I saw Cy Twombly’s triptych.

Knowing almost nothing about Cy Twombly’s intention as an artist I am not about to suggest here that the painting is of moored boats and their reflections, however I do want to make the point that the power of all art is to evoke. Whether it be thought, emotion, idea or action, glimpses of transcendence come with great art. Three Studies from the Temeraire is a work that operates at the nucleus of all great paintings. With mark-making at its crudest, it is stripped bare of all artifice leaving at its core a link; an invitation, an outstretched hand to lead us elsewhere. Three Studies from the Temeraire didn’t force or coerce me to connect with it, nor did it require me to know about the connection between it and Turner’s painting. Instead it sat gently bobbing in the turning tide of my consciousness, waiting, just as it does on the gallery wall of the AGNSW. And then in the half-morning light it took me away on the tide.

So, from now on whenever I go to the AGNSW I will go to stand at ‘Edmund’s Twombly’ for it has etched itself inside my brain. A perfect candidate for this week’s Painting of the week.

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