Larry Rivers

“American artist. Larry Rivers was born Yitzroch Loiza Grossberg in the Bronx in 1923. He began a career as a Jazz Saxophonist in 1940, and changed his name to Larry Rivers soon thereafter. From 1944-45 Rivers studied music theory and composition at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. In 1945, a fellow musician showed Rivers a cubist work by Georges Braque; this spurred Rivers to begin painting. From 1947-48 Rivers studied painting at Hans Hofmann’s School. In 1949, while studying at New York University, Rivers had his first one-man show at the Jane Street Gallery in New York. After graduating with a degree in art education from NYU, Rivers went on to have an extremely busy career; traveling and exhibiting at numerous galleries and museums all over the world. Rivers also collaborated with friends working in other disciplines. In 1952 he designed the stage set for close friend Frank O’Hara’s play “Try! Try!” From 1959-60, Rivers worked with Kenneth Koch on a collection of picture-poems. In 1966 he designed the sets and costumes for Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex”, which turned out to be very controversial. After 1957, Rivers began to use mass-produced designs from common products, which is seen as a precursor to Pop Art. Throughout his career, Rivers explored many different areas of expression including music, painting, sculpture, mixed media, poetry, acting, film, and teaching. Rivers’ work is seen as a bridge between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art.”            

“Attaching a singularly defining label to Larry Rivers has remained an elusive task for many who have tried to contextualize his over 50 year contribution to the arts. Rivers was an accomplished Jazz musician, a painter, sculptor, poet, actor, television personality, filmmaker, an MC at nightclubs, a popular personality on the lecture circuit, author and teacher.  He’s been aptly referred to as “a renaissance man,” but perhaps he’s most often recognized and ironically at times equally underappreciated as one of if not the key founding fathers of Pop Art. Andy Warhol never made it a secret that he was influenced by Rivers art, but in perhaps a more revealing quote from the book “Popism” Warhol recognizes Rivers unique persona as an influential ingredient in the development of Pop Art. Warhol said, “Larry’s painting style was unique – it wasn’t Abstract Expressionism and it wasn’t Pop, it fell into the period in between. But his personality was very Pop.”” 

“It was Rivers’ Pop personality that motivated him to be out in front of his works, serving as part of the package, a delivery system to drive home his particular point of view. Critics have often accused Rivers of stealing the spotlight from his own work. But Rivers considered it more of a way to authenticate his work, because his work could not be authenticated by any particular “ism”. It’s true, Rivers work wasn’t Pop and it wasn’t Abstract Expressionism, it was more of an ongoing dialogue with art and ideas, an expansive bridge between two significant art movements. There’s a certain prophetic irony in the name Larry Rivers. He became famous for making a work about a River Crossing, and then continued to cultivate a career as an influential transitional artist; a builder of bridges.”


Further Readings:
Marika Herskovic, New York Abstract Expressionists Artists Choice by Artists, (New York School Press, 2000) p. 8, 32, 38, 310-313

Marlborough Gallery, Larry Rivers: Works from the Sixties: May 3-21 1990, Marlborough Gallery Inc.  (The Gallery, 1990, University of Michigan) 

John Ashbery, Larry Rivers: Art and the Artist, (Marlborough Gallery, Inc, 1993)