CHALK by Joshua Rivkin
Kirkus Star


The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly
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A creative portal into the life of the enigmatic, reclusive, modernist painter.

It’s appropriate that a poet would write the first biography and comprehensive assessment of the paintings, sculptures, and photographs of Cy Twombly (1928-2011). His often massive art is as much lined poetry as it is scribbled, smudged paint, explosions of color, many marked with his unique chalk flourishes. “White paint,” Twombly said, “is my marble.” When young Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg were students at Black Mountain College in 1952, Charles Olson wrote to Robert Creeley admiringly about Rauschenberg’s very close friend and lover, the “clear genius of this lad.” Like Olson’s Call Me Ishmael (1947), Rivkin’s portrait of Twombly is meditative, personally reflective, and poetic. He’s traveled and done all the research, interviewed many key figures in Twombly’s life, and observed and felt the wonder of an “ecstatic” art he greatly admires. For Rivkin, “every painting [is] a self-portrait, not of the surface, the face in the mirror, but a reflection of that wilderness inside.” Twombly was a Southerner his whole life. He favored long-sleeve white shirts and suspenders. He was born in Lexington, Virginia, and his mother saw to it that he had a fine artistic education. As he traveled all over, he painted, always worried that his works weren’t selling. He married an Italian artist, Tatiana Franchetti, and they had a son, Alexander. In 1959, Twombly painted the massive “The Age of Alexander.” “Literary and historical and personal,” it is “both wild abandon and careful mark. A space that’s both, paradoxically, full and empty.” In 1964, he met Nicola Del Roscio, who would become his longtime companion and assistant. The author eagerly roams throughout the oeuvre, tracing Twombly’s growth as an artist, from the blackboard paintings, “minimal, ahistorical, singular,” to the “meditative and gracious” Green Paintings, and beyond.

Rivkin’s first book—impeccably researched, lavishly and lovingly written, insightful and discerning—is a joy to read.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61219-718-0
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Melville House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2018


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