Yitzroch Loiza Grossberg was born in the Bronx, New York on August 17th, 1923. However, not until seventeen years later did an emcee in a Stockbridge, Massachusetts night club dub this talented young Jazz saxophonist, Larry Rivers. For most of the artist’s youth, the only cultural pursuit made available was music; which he embraced wholeheartedly. Indeed, Rivers’ partiality for Jazz’ improvisation and syncopation was heavily influential throughout his career, and arguably most profoundly in the late 1950s. Unsurprisingly, the artist would frequently favor the Saxophone over the paintbrush, and even traveled to Paris in 1958 to play in a Jazz band; the same year Welding Wall was painted.
As Sam Hunter notes, during this time, Rivers’ paintings began focusing on “the increasing viability for art of signs and references to the commonplace,” and seemed motivated “by the enjoyment of a banal non sequitur for its own sake, for its power to divert and release the eye from the main content of painterly invention.” (Sam Hunter, Larry Rivers, New York, 1972, p. 33) Though, while the subject matter of Rivers’ paintings increasingly became ordinary, their execution became frenetic and unpredictable yet unmistakably redolent; reminiscent of the Jazz he loved. Thus, in contrast to the esotericism and emotional density of the Abstract Expressionists, Rivers’ compositions were refreshingly accessible and socially relevant.
Completed shortly after the artist began working in welded metal sculpture, Welding Wall is a superlative example of the aforementioned aspects of Rivers’ art of the late 1950s. Bold swaths of color are interspersed with welding masks, gloves, acetylene torches and suggestions of other tools, figures and signs. Images seem to drift in and out of focus with loud and soft colors, clear and hazy images, visually evocative of the syncopated rhythm of a Jazz riff. However, for all of Welding Wall’s visual power, the subject matter is unabashedly ordinary; a wall. Yet, by elevating this subject to the realm of ‘high art,’ Welding Wall becomes not only a superlative example of Rivers’ ability to imbue the commonplace with a modernist spirit, but also an important Proto-Pop conception of everyone’s fifteen minutes of fame.