Rivers’ Tinguely and Rivers in 1978 (1998)

Larry Rivers’ 1993 show at a private gallery in New York, Art and the Artist, was clearly based on the same theme explained here, “The Artist and His Art”. The exhibition included Rivers’ altered copies of characteristic works by famous painters with a portrait of the painter included within each composition. Picasso was shown with one of his bull paintings; Matisse with a dining-room scene (see here). The drawing of Rivers, below, seated next to the artist Jean Tinguely outside a Parisian café was not included in the show but it could have been. The theme he used is the same.

Note how Rivers has portrayed each man in a completely different style. Rivers himself is a more fully formed figure with relatively smooth gradations of tone. Tinguely, on the other hand, seems roughly drawn, perhaps even unfinished. The lines of the pastel are clearly visible. The intentional difference is a method Rivers could have learnt from any number of great masters before him. Even though the image was based on an old snapshot, the two men here are on two different levels of reality. Rivers is “real” because he is the artist while Tinguely, more obviously drawn with pastel and pencil, is “his work of art”. The hand on the arm suggests this intimate link between the two, a link that any artist has with his own creation.

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Rivers, Tinguely and Rivers in 1978 (1998)

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It is also worth noting that Tinguely has one eye darkened. The clear one, as always, symbolizes an artist’s out-sight, or normal vision; the darkened one, insight. 

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Detail of Tinguely and Rivers in 1978

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The light-dark pattern of his eyes is then repeated in reverse in the circular forms of the cup and milk-jug below. These eye-like forms near the lower edge convey, as in Matisse’s Harmony in Red, that the image above takes place in the artist’s mind.

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Detail of Tinguely and Rivers in 1978

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The choice of Tinguely is not incidental either. As an artist, he is an obvious alter ego of Rivers himself while their shared profession, emphasized by their similar clothing, hints at the long tradition in which one artist has felt a deep bond with another. Picasso was not alone in suggesting that great artists were possible reincarnations of one another; Rivers may thought likewise

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