Overview of Artist's Life
Written by Robert Croker
From earliest childhood, regardless of anything else, Robert Rivers has -- incessantly, painstakingly, and furiously -- drawn pictures.
The main body of Rivers work, from The Hospital Prints (1976) to The Promised Land (2010-present) is informed by tragic death: the former that of his mother in 1974; the latter that of his beloved nephew Thomas, a Marine killed in Afghanistan in 2010.
While the Hospital Prints are direct references to a singular traumatic event, The Promised Land, an ongoing series of over 450 mixed-media paintings on paper, addresses violence, war, and death in a deliberately enigmatic and metaphorical manner.
The content of the War Prayer prints of 1984-2010 presages that of The Promised Land.
2010 - Present - The Promised Land Paintings
As noted above, The Promised Land, more than 450 works, is Rivers response to his nephew’s death in Afghanistan. Repeating iconic images drawn from his experience (some of which have persisted from childhood), from the mythology of many cultures, and from historical depictions, these paintings are both a tribute to Thomas and a rumination upon death in general, by violence in particular; the fragility and persistence of life; the uncertainty of an afterlife, the innocence of youth, and the intensity with which our lives are bound to one another, regardless of circumstance.
1984 - 2010 - The War Prayer Etchings
This series of prints was inspired by Mark Twain’s essay by the same name. Rivers employed only basic etching techniques in working the 24” x 36” deeply bit copper plates. The resulting embossment sometimes reaches ¼” above the paper. The distress he put the plates through is reflected in the imagery, which presages that of The Promised Land. Some of these prints are included in The Handmade Books, which gained recognition in the UK and US.
1975 to 1978 - The Handmade Books
Rivers traveled to Patagonia in 1995. Speaking no Spanish, he climbed mountains, paddled white water, and drew. When he returned, Larry Cooper, a colleague at UCF, bound them into books. These books are now in the permanent collections of The National Gallery of Art (Smithsonian), the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and others.
1995 - 1997 - The Ceramic Heads
The thick glazes of these life-sized sculptures reflect the surface quality of Rivers prints, and, in turn, inform the glazed surfaces and color of The Promised Land. Though he is principally and always a graphic artist, working in three dimensions keeps him alive to the factors of volume and texture in drawing, etching, and painting.
1995 - Present - The Hospital Prints
This cycle of prints, also based on a deeply-felt personal loss, brought Rivers from being an Unclassified Post-graduate to a Ford Foundation scholar at The University of Georgia.