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Larry Rivers (American, 1923-2002)


Also known as:  Grossberg, Yitzroch Loiza; Yitzroch Loiza Grossberg

Birth Place: Bronx (New York state, United States)

Larry Rivers and his art do not situate within a singularly defined label. As an artist of many forms, Rivers was a painter, sculptor, poet, television and lecture circuit personality, and even an accomplished jazz musician. He was born Yitzroch Loiza Grossberg in the Bronx, New York in 1923, and it wasn’t until 1940 that he changed his name. After a short service in the US Army Air Corps during World War II, he attended Juilliard to study music theory and composition. It was in 1945 that he began his career in painting, spending a few years studying under Hans Hoffmann and the influence of Abstract Expressionism. After receiving his bachelor’s from New York University, he continued his studies and received honorary doctorates from several institutions.

Rivers’ painting transitioned away from his teachings of Abstract Expressionism, instead developing his own style in which he facilitated his drawing and use of figurative subjects from his everyday life into his work, creating a new dynamic that blurred the lines between pure abstraction and familiar imagery. This technique of merging painting with drawing is best expressed in Washington Crossing the Delaware, a pivotal work in Rivers’ career. The painting incorporated a familiar subject matter in a stylistic manner of multiple-pose montages. This painting served to create a type of spiritual bond with the great history paintings that Rivers had seen at the Louvre with his own style. It was this iconoclastic nature of his that strongly influenced the ideologies that Pop Art later played upon. In accordance to his paintings, a large part of Rivers’ artistic career was collaborating with others. He developed strong creative friendships with Frank O’Hara, as well as with the poet Kenneth Koch, Jean Tinguely, and even Jack Kerouac.

One of his largest, yet underappreciated contributions to the art world was being one of the key founding fathers of Pop Art, which became a movement uniquely defined by those characteristics of Rivers, an artist whose personality strongly influenced the perception of his art. Rivers helped found the origins of Pop Art, but due to the nature of his work, many consider him a post-Abstract Expressionist. His art continued to develop through his lifetime, and later in his life he even revisited early interests like fashion design. With a major retrospective at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and two other exhibitions scheduled in 2002, Rivers continued to work up until three months before his death in August. To this day, Rivers’ unyielding spirit influences contemporary artists.
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