The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly was a man obsessed with myth and history – including his own. Shuttling between his stunning homes in Italy and the United States, where he perfected his room-size canvases, he managed his public image carefully and rarely gave interviews.

Upon first seeing Twombly’s remarkable paintings, author Joshua Rivkin became obsessed himself with the mysterious artist, and began chasing every lead, big or small – anything that might illuminate who Twombly really was.

Now, after unprecedented archival research and years of interviews, Rivkin has reconstructed Twombly’s life, from his time at the legendary Black Mountain College to his canonization in a 1979 Whitney retrospective; from his heady explorations of Rome in the 1950s with Robert Rauschenberg to the ongoing efforts to shape his legacy after his death.

Including previously unpublished photographs, Chalk presents a more personal and searching type of biography than we’ve ever encountered, and brings to life a more complex Twombly than we’ve ever known.


Available in paperback 12/1/2020

JOSHUA RIVKIN’s poems and essays have appeared in the New Yorker, Slate, the Southern Review, the Virginia Quarterly Review, and Best New Poets. A former Fulbright Scholar in Rome, Italy, as well as a Stegner Fellow in poetry, he has received awards from the Sustainable Arts Foundation, Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and Ucross Foundation. He teaches creative writing for Stanford’s Continuing Studies and lives in Salt Lake City.

“…the most substantive biography of the artist to date…propulsive, positive and persuasive.” – The New York Times Book Review

“A long, haunted letter of unrequited love, and a meta-analysis of true biography’s impossibility.” – The Paris Review

“A creative portal into the life of the enigmantic, reclusive, modernist painter… Rivkin’s first book—impeccably researched, lavishly and lovingly written, insightful and discerning—is a joy to read.” –*STARRED* Kirkus Reviews

“Rivkin brings his sensibility and prowess as a poet and essayist to this unusually reflective, stealthily dramatic inquiry into the enigmatic life and work of artist Cy Twombly… An extraordinarily involving, gorgeously written chronicle of art, controversy, fame, and the perils of biography.” –*STARRED* Booklist Review

“Achieves unusual dimensionality by putting the experience of standing for many hours in front of Twombly’s work together with travels to the places Twombly lived, and portraits of the people who surrounded him.” – BOMB Magazine

“Fascinating… this biography unveils for the first time the many complexities of Twombly’s artistic and personal life.” – KCRW

“Reviled when young, revered when old, the elusive Twombly surprisingly emerges in this fascinating biography, which traces the difficulties of tracking down the man as thoroughly as it fills in the blurred, half-erased likeness. This is the record of a heroic journey of discovery.”
—Edmund White

“Joshua Rivkin’s sensitive eye and investigative ambition expand and enrich our understanding of Cy Twombly’s genius in this tenderly rendered biography.”—Rachel Corbett, author of You Must Change Your Life

“This book is a network of glances, an architecture of mirrors and hallways, all in pursuit of a ‘figure in the carpet’ — the mysterious Twombly and the haunting scrawl of his beautiful paintings.” —Alexander Nemerov, author of Soulmaker: The Times of Lewis Hine

“So much more than a study of the life and work of the famously guarded Twombly.” —Lacy Johnson, author of The Other Side

“Joshua Rivkin’s revelatory Chalk performs an archaeology of a life and explores the layers below those we think we already know (or maybe those we never even dreamed existed).” —R. Tripp Evans, author of Grant Wood: A Life

“[A] rewarding excavation into the life of Cy Twombly… rich prose studded with flashes of poetry… [a] patient, loving exploration.” – 15 Bytes Magazine


“A singular reading experience … [that] doesn’t skimp on intrigue.” – Shelf Awareness

“An in-depth exploration of a character that, until now, has existed on the periphery of the history of modern art.” – The Marina Times