A jazz musician turned artist, Larry Rivers began studying painting in the late 1940s under the influence of Abstract Expressionism, but quickly turned to his natural facility as a draftsman to paint intimate scenes of domestic life. After a trip to Paris, he began reinterpreting art masterpieces in an impulsive, gestural, and often subversive way that mingled old and new styles, abstraction and figuration, history and satire. By the late 1950s, he was incorporating found objects and images from the mass media into his paintings, foreshadowing the practices of Pop artists.
Rivers’s forays into poetry, as well as his close relationships with poets and playwrights, encouraged his interest in narrative themes and in artist/writer collaborations. Also inspired by such collaborations was fledging publisher Tatyana Grosman, who had opened her print workshop, Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) in 1957. That year she invited Rivers to make lithographs with his close friend and then lover, poet Frank O’Hara. The project was a series of firsts: ULAE’s first invitation to an artist; Rivers’s first foray into printmaking; and the workshop’s first illustrated book. In addition to his many projects at ULAE, Rivers made prints with Marlborough Graphics and Edition Schellmann, among other publishers.
For the book Stones, Rivers and O’Hara jumped in with an enthusiasm and lack of experience that gave them freedom to experiment. Together they created an intimate dialogue, starting each print with individual titles and then responding to each other’s imagery and words. Their decision to ink the edges of the stones gives the prints in this volume a storyboard frame. Autobiographical and full of spontaneous fragments, Stones epitomizes the close relationships between artists and poets in New York in the 1950s, as well as the vitality found at a burgeoning print workshop.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Judith Hecker, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 155.