Larry Rivers

(1923 - 2002)

About The Artist

In the 1950s and ‘60s, a time during which figuration was considered dead and pure abstraction was the dominant force in art, the painter, sculptor, and printmaker Larry Rivers insisted that figurative art and portraiture remained relevant—even radical. The singular style he developed combined the force and gesture of Abstract Expressionism with acutely rendered, representational imagery. His preferred subject matter—everyday objects like playing cards, cigarette packs, and foreign currency—together with his signature cool, ironic detachment have caused some to regard Rivers as the forerunner of Pop Art.

Rivers was a leading figure in the New York School, a loose-knit group of painters, writers, dancers, and musicians who formed the core of the East Coast avant-garde in the 1950s and ‘60s. In addition to making art, Rivers played jazz saxophone, designed stage sets and costumes, made documentary films, and acted. He and the poet Frank O’Hara—his longtime friend and sometime lover—would collaborate on art that combined text and imagery. For his Make Believe Ballroom series, Rivers employed a novel printing technique to create pieces with raised, textured surfaces which occupy a middle ground between painting and sculpture.

In 1963, Rivers painted the first of his Dutch Masters works, a theme he explored several times over. Wryly, these works reference not any Dutch master proper, but a brand of cigars whose packaging co-opts Rembrandt’s The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild to commercial ends. In so doing, these paintings are classic Rivers, who surely relished the absurd reincarnation of a Rembrandt masterpiece as promotional fodder in twentieth-century consumer culture.

Rose, Barbara, and Jacquelyn Days Serwer. Larry Rivers: Art and the Artist. Boston: Little, Brown and in Association with the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 2002. Print.