Monday, February 15, 2010

Larry entered the scene like a demented telephone. Nobody knew whether to put it in the library, the kitchen or the toilet. But it was electric.

Frank O'Hara

On Presidents Day it would be fun to be at MoMA in New York having a look at Larry Rivers' take on Washington Crossing the Delaware. While the original version has George striking a preposterous pose while the boat cuts through jagged chunks of ice, this George is a lot more human, a smaller-than-life guy alone in a rowboat, while men and horses remain scattered about. Here's Rivers on how his idea took shape after finishing War and Peace:

Tolstoy’s novel was not something I could see, not a figure or a landscape, a church or a mountainside. By meshing Napoleon’s invasion of Russia with contemporary life, Tolstoy set me on a course that produced Washington Crossing the Delaware…… This work was going to take my style of painting, charcoal drawing and rag wiping, to a new height. The mixture of grand art and absurdity was with me from the beginning. (from Larry Rivers Foundation site)

Rivers painted this figurative work in 1953 while many in the NY art scene were whipping up purely abstract works, and many feel his work is an early combination of Pop and Abstract Expressionism. His subjects weren't always new takes on iconic subjects; he also focused on everyday people and objects. In fact he painted his mother-in-law which strikes me as a really risky gambit.

There's a good bio of the artist at the Larry Rivers Foundation site. Apparently he began as a jazz saxophonist before he became an artist. He also forged a lifelong friendship with Frank O'Hara and the two exchanged letters and ideas, collaborating on projects for years.

What do you think of his work? I love the combining of graphite and oil and have been experimenting with that myself. Let's see. . . Obama shoveling snow? Clinton undergoing stent surgery?


  1. 以簡單的行為愉悅他人的心靈,勝過千人低頭禱告。 ..................................................

  2. Oup, I think I've seen that commenter before.

    "Larry entered the scene like a demented telephone" Is the best quote I've heard in a LONG while. What work is it from?

  3. I haven't - I would love to know what he said. . As for the quote, from what I've read at the Larry Rivers Foundation website (, Rivers struck up a friendship with poet Frank O'Hara in 1950 and the two maintained a correspondence until O'Hara died in 1966. Many letters survive and the two collaborated on a number of projects. It's not clear exactly when O'Hara said this.