Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Art Books and Larry Rivers

One of my favorite diversions when I was an art student at Ohio University was going to Alden Library and looking at the art books. I have always loved libraries anyways, and this seven story campus building seemed to contain more than a universe. When I walked the aisles of their art books I felt I'd hit the mother lode.

I'd not yet had any art history, so I'd pull books off the shelves and riff through the pages. The names were nearly all new except those that reached the popular culture due to their fame... Rembrandt, Picasso, Dali. So I would pull books, flip through pages, and if attracted would make a pile to carry back to my dorm, Scott Quad. One of the artists I discovered in this manner was Larry Rivers.

I'd never heard of Rivers before. A Bronx-born artist, I was attracted to the boldness of his paintings as well as the mish-mash of styles. Mid-century modern art had achieved liberation from the rules and artists, like Rivers and Rauschenberg made their own rules. At the time these artists were way outside the boundaries, but if you look at their work and then read any sophisticated magazine that has illustrations, you will see Rivers' influence. What was off the beam and out of bounds is now simply useful technique. Loose portraits with incomplete expressionistic or abstract backgrounds.

I had not thought much about him over the past forty years, but his work must have made an impression on me. I was showing someone this page of Rivers's images from Google and this person said, "I see where your work comes from." I won't protest. I must have internalized a bit of Rivers to some extent. He, like myself, did a lot of portraits, in his own way. I, too, am drawn to faces.

All this to say that art books are a great way to become acquainted with new artists.

On those occasions when I visit an artist's studio, I am drawn nearly as much to their books as to their work. The same occurs when I go to art museums. When you reach the end of the MOMA there's the gallery store, filled with plunder for the hepped up connoisseur. When I visit the Tweed Museum here on the UMD campus. I see the collection of art books on the second floor (in the room where they conduct their Tweevenings talks) and I covet.

Just looking at the names on the bindings brings back memories. I see the set of Motherwell books and am transported to an enormous wall in the Museum of Modern Art where his black and white canvases were hung. I see Vermeer's name and am transported to Washington DC where I saw his Girl with a Pearl Earring.

You don't have to own them to experience them. Libraries are great places for grazing. And you can't beat the price.

So, here are some photos from the Tweed and my recent visit to Karen Nease's studio. I noticed her book on Paul Klee, another of my early influences. And Diebenkorn, another early influence.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Make it part of your life.

Follow me on Twitter @ennyman3

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