Los Angeles

Larry Rivers

Dwan Gallery

Rivers’ work has been described as a link be­tween pure abstract expressionism and traditional techniques which is desir­able or damnable, depending upon which critic is judging. Thus he is seen as an esthetic gymnast balancing De Kooning and Kline on the one hand and Ingres on the other. He does not belong here. Rather he belongs with his teacher Hans Hofmann and the French Fauves.

Consider for a moment Hofmann’s easy expressionism which is generally up­beat, rarely deals with unpleasant themes, uses still life elements to de­fine positive-negative and sets up spa­tial movement rather than relate to humanity, and who consistently (but more obviously in recent works), com­bines classical with romantic motifs. Is Rivers really much different? Probably not, except in his selection of still life material, which better reflects the sym­bol interest of his generation and there­fore seems more sardonic, but which, in reality (cigar boxes, currency, stamps), is no less universal to an affluent so­ciety than are Hofmann’s Flowering Branch or Burst into Life. As with Matisse, a nude is a goldfish bowl. 

On occasion Rivers is trapped by his environment into a social response, as in Africa, but even here the subject is treated at the shallow level of its instigating force (newspaper or tele­vision). Or in his flashy Summer Nude where this lovely dame, figure and en­vironment, is as lighthearted and tran­sient as the quick glimpse of a straight leg and the scalloped hem of a summer frock, rather than suggesting an in­volvement.

The small pieces dealing with parts of the body, (Noses, Eyes, Cascad­ing Nude) that are collage are quite different, while being similar. Tiny breasts, navels, and other parts are carefully cut from reproductions, pasted into place, danced around, jumped over, fondled, erased, re-created, and finally resolved as homage to frustration and fulfillment. In art as in life they are loved. One walks away with the feeling that the paintings were beguiling exer­cises created in spare time between the taxing enterprise of drawing. It is really quite perverse.

H. T. H.