Set designer Michael Raiford did an amazing job designing the set of God of Carnage, drawing inspiration from the arty sensibilities of the character Veronica Novak in the play – and modern artist Cy Twombly, known for his large-scale freestyle scribbles on canvas.
Michael Raiford notes, “Cy Twombly seemed the perfect fit to embrace a space that was about an art aficionado and adults acting like children. He was sometimes know as ‘the scribbler’. This interpretation of Twombly pushes the childlike qualities of ’scribbling’ on a wall.”
Hilariously played by Lauren Lane, Veronica is the victim’s mother who works part-time in an art history bookshop. She has a collection of coffee table art books, which become seminal props in the play, and surely Cy Twombly would be in her catalog.
Raiford’s set design was an homage to Twombly, who passed away in July of this year after a career spanning from the 1950s. Some of Twombly’s best known works are from the 1960s where he practiced lowercase “e”s on canvas. He blurred the lines between painting and drawing, and though it may look like scribbles to some, each line or smudge was painted with its own history and to Twombly was proper subject matter.
Veronica tells the other couple, “I contributed to a collection on the civilization of Sheba, based on the excavations that were restarted at the end of the Ethiopian-Eritrean war,” and Raiford’s inspirational use of Twombly in his set design also reflects the historical sensibilities in Twombly’s work.
Late in Twombly’s career (he painted through 2010), many of his paintings and works on paper moved into “romantic symbolism”, and their titles were meant to be visually interpreted through shapes and forms and words.
Twombly often quoted the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, as well as many classical myths and allegories in his works. Examples of this are his “Apollo and The Artist” and a series of eight drawings consisting solely of inscriptions of the word “VIRGIL”.
In a 1994 retrospective, curator Kirk Varnedoe described Twombly’s work as “influential among artists, discomfiting to many critics and truculently difficult not just for a broad public, but for sophisticated initiates of postwar art as well.” After acquiring Twombly’s Three Studies from the Temeraire, painted in 1998–99, the Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales said “sometimes people need a little bit of help in recognizing a great work of art that might be a bit unfamiliar.”
When Veronica’s books are … soiled by an over-the-top incident in the play, she takes great care (and that’s an understatement) to preserve the art books, a collection of interest that is very telling about her character and the grave concern she has about a playground skirmish involving her kid.
Who knew so much went into a set? Raiford is one of dozens of artists that contributed to the artful God of Carnage, written up by the Austin American-Statesman as “box office gold,” and called “wickedly funny” by Austin Culture Map.
Thanks to Kirk Tuck for all the great production photos!