Cy Twombly (b. 1928) is widely considered to be one of the greatest living American artists, and he has received much admiration and international critical praise throughout his fifty-year career. Yet his work defies easy categorization. Subverting traditional distinctions between painting and drawing, brush and pencil-work, written words and images, he has made a highly individual contribution to the history of twentieth-century art. This book interprets Twombly's huge and complex body of work through a close study of his pictures, following both a thematic and chronological progression from the late 1950s to the most recent work. It demonstrates that the signs found in Twombly's paintings - pictograms, numbers, words, colours - which at first sight form an eclectic and multifaceted whole, are in fact organized into a true language whose often archaic forms are combined on canvas with allusive fragments of an enormous cultural world. From a scrawl to a drawing or a word, Twombly's work is an articulation of the language of memory and desire, from a place in which painting, drawing and writing are one single thing.
Richard Leeman is a lecturer in the history of contemporary art at the University of Bordeaux, and an adviser to the Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art, Paris.