Larry Rivers was born Yitzak Loiza Grossberg in the Bronx, New York on August 17, 1923. He was the son of Ukrainian immigrants Samuel and Sonya Grossberg. Until 1945 Rivers earned his living as a saxophonist playing in various jazz bands throughout New York City. His name was changed when a nightclub comedian introduced his group as “Larry Rivers and the mudcats.” From 1944–45 he studied music theory and composition at the Julliard School of Music.
At about this time he met painter Jane Freilicher who introduced him to the world of visual art. He began to study painting with Hans Hofmann in 1947. With funding from the GI bill he enrolled in the Fine Arts program at New York University, where he worked with William Baziotes and received a Bachelor’s degree in art in 1951.
Following this Rivers developed a career that focused on painting, but included music, stage design, acting, filmmaking and writing poetry and prose. He was a facile draftsman whose artwork formed a connection between the Abstract Expressionism of the 1940s and 50s and the Pop Art of the 1960s. He was fascinated by great painting and among some of his most noted paintings were his personal renditions of some of the world’s classics: for example, Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” and Manet’s “I Like Olympia in Blackface.” The subjects of his figurative paintings were family, history, politics and sex. His oil paintings included the use of stencils, cutouts, blank canvas and image reversals. He often painted family members.
Rivers died of liver cancer on August 14, 2002 in his home in Southampton, New York.