Larry Rivers (August 17, 1923 - August 14, 2002) was a Jewish American artist, musician, filmmaker and occasional actor. Rivers resided and maintained studios in New York City, Southampton, New York on (Long Island) and Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
Larry Rivers was born in the Bronx, New York as Yitzrok Loiza Grossberg. He changed his name to Larry Rivers in 1940, after being introduced as "Larry Rivers and the Mudcats" at a local New York City pub. From 1940-45 he worked as a jazz saxophonist in New York City, and he studied at the Juilliard School of Music in 1945-46, along with Miles Davis, with whom he remained friends until Davis's death in 1996.
Rivers is considered by many scholars a "Grandfather" of Pop art, because he was one of the first artists to really merge non-objective, non-narrative art with narrative and objective abstraction.
Rivers took up painting in 1945 and studied at the Hans Hofmann School from 1947-48, and then at New York University. He was a pop artist of the New York School, reproducing everyday objects of American popular culture as art.
In 1951, he graduated in art from New York University and met Jackson Pollock. His works were subsequently shown by John Myers. Rivers continued to show annually with Meyers at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery for 10 years. In 1952 he designed the stage set for Frank O'Hara's play "Try! Try!". In 1953, Rivers moved to Southampton, New York on Long Island, and began to make outdoor sculpture. That same year he also created some of his first prints and paintings with historical themes, such as his well-known version of Washington Crossing the Delaware, (col: The Museum of Modern Art, New York), after the famous work by Emanuel Leutze. In 1954 he had his first exhibition of sculptures at the Stable Gallery, New York. In 1956 he began a series of large-format paintings and was included with ten other American artists in the IV Bienal Do Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, Brazil. In 1958 he spent a month in Paris and played in various jazz bands. He also collaborated with the poet Kenneth Koch on the collection of picture-poems New York 1959-1960.
Larry Rivers appeared in several films over the years, including the 1959 short film, Pull My Daisy, Round Trip in (1967), The Queen in (1968), Lovesick (1983), and Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story in (2000).
In 1963, he joined the Marlborough Gallery where he showed until his death. He also showed at other prominent venues. In 1955, The Museum of Modern Art acquired his painting, "Washington Crossing the Delaware" (although because of various personal reasons on behalf of MoMA, the painting was never hung in the new installaton of the gallery). In 1956, the Whitney Museum of American Art purchased "Double Portrait of Berdie", which on occasion hangs prominently in the museum.
He was close friends with the poet and curator Frank O'Hara with whom he collaborated on an article titled How To Make a Painting for the Evergreen Review. His close friendship with many of the New York School of painters and poets produced many collaborations over the years, including those with Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Koch, and Terry Southern.
During the early 1960's Rivers lived in the infamous Hotel Chelsea. In 1965 he had his first comprehensive retrospective in five important American museums. His final work for the exhibition was The History of the Russian Revolution, which was later on extended permanent display at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC. During 1967 he was in London collaborating with the American painter Howard Kanovitz.
In 1968, Rivers travelled to Africa for a second time with Pierre Dominique Gaisseau to finish their documentary, Africa and I, they narrowly escaped execution as suspected mercenaries.
During the 1970's he worked closely with Diana Molinari and Michel Auder on many video tape projects, including the infamous Tits.
Established as one of America's most important postwar artists, Rivers continued, until his death on 14 August 2002, to exhibit regularly both in the United States and abroad and to create work that combined realistically rendered images within a loosely brushed, quasi-abstract background. His primary gallery being the Marlborough Gallery in New York City. In 2002 a major retrospective of Rivers' work was held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Rivers married Augusta Berger in 1945, and they had one son, Steven, as well as an earlier adopted child, Joseph. The couple divorced. He married Clarice Price in 1961, a Welsh nanny who cared for his 2 sons. Rivers and Clarice Price had two daughters, Gwynne and Emma. After 6 years, they separated. Shortly after, he lived and collaborated with Diana Molinari, who featured in many of his works of the 1970's. For the next 30 years Rivers maintained a relationship with Sheila Lanham, a Baltimore poet. In the early 1980s, Rivers and the East Village figurative painter, Daria Deshuk lived together and in 1985 they had a son, Sam Deshuk Rivers. At the time of his death in 2002, Jeni Olin, a poet, was his companion.