Artist's Biography - Larry Rivers
( 1923 - August 14, 2002 )
Figurative artist Larry Rivers was born in the Bronx in 1923 to Ukrainian Jewish parents and was named Yitzak Loiza Grossberg. Rivers belonged to the second generation of the New York School, though unlike most of his contemporaries he stayed away from abstraction instead preferring narrative paintings. He began his artistic career playing the jazz saxophone and when one night his group was introduced as "Larry Rivers and the Mudcats," he decided to keep the name.
After a brief period in the army during World War II, Rivers attended Julliard School of Music for one year before returning to the jazz saxophone. After he met the painter Jane Freilicher, he decided to devote himself to painting. Rivers attended Hans Hofmann's school for nearly two years. In 1949 he had his first solo show at the Jane Street Gallery, an artist's co-op in the Village. Rivers received favorable reviews and was invited to join the Tibor de Nagy Gallery uptown.
Rivers continued to show annually at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery from 1952 to 1962. In 1963, he joined the Marlborough Gallery where he stayed until his death. In 1955, The Modern acquired his painting "Washington Crossing the Delaware" and in 1956 the Whitney Museum purchased "Double Portrait of Berdie", two of his more famous paintings. He had periodic museum shows in Europe and the United States throughout his career.
Rivers had two sons, Joseph and Steven, by his first wife, Augusta. In 1961 he married Clarice Price and had two more children, Gwynne and Emma. In the 1970s he had another son with the painter Daria Deshuk
The subjects of River's figurative paintings were family, history, politics, religion and sex. His work done in oils often included the use of stencils, cutouts, blank canvas and image reversals. He often painted family members including his mother in law, his sons and his ex-wife. Rivers favored historical subjects such as "History of Matzoh: The Story of the Jews (1984-85)," "History of the Russian Revolution (1965)" and often painted parodies including his "Washington Crossing the Delaware." Rivers enjoyed controversial subjects and shocking the public. "Lapman Loves It" (1966) is a nine foot electrified assemblage complete with strategically located light bulbs. "French Vocabulary Lesson (1961-62)" is a nude with body parts labeled in French.
Rivers was also a writer. In 1979 he published "Drawings and Digressions" with Carol Brightman. In 1992 he published "What Did I Do? The Unauthorized Autobiography" with Arnold Weinstein.
Rivers died on August 14, 2002 of liver cancer in his home in Southampton, New York.
Source: Art in America, October 2002
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