Monday, April 7, 2014

Rauschenberg, Robert

oil and silkscreen ink on canvas
147.3 x 127 cm
The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, Los Angeles, CA, USA
-Fair use-

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was an American painter and graphic artist who was renowned as an enfant terrible, famous for his 1950s work in the period between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. He was born in Texas. His early works anticipated the pop art movement.

He imagined himself first as a minister and later as a pharmacist. It wasn’t until 1947, while in the U.S. Marines that he discovered his aptitude for drawing and his interest in the artistic representation of everyday objects and people. After leaving the Marines he studied art in Paris, but quickly became disenchanted with the European art scene and moved to North Carolina. Soon, country life in North Carolina began to seem small and he left for New York to make it as a painter. During this time in New York, he became very close friends with the painter Jasper Johns, who greatly influenced his work. There, amidst the chaos and excitement of city life he realized the full extent of what he could bring to painting.

His enthusiasm for popular culture and his rejection of the angst and seriousness of the Abstract Expressionists led him to search for a new way of painting. He found his signature mode by embracing materials traditionally outside of the artist’s reach. He would cover a canvas with house paint, or ink the wheel of a car and run it over paper to create a drawing, while demonstrating rigor and concern for formal painting. By 1958, his work had moved from abstract painting to what he termed “combines.” The combines (meant to express both the finding and forming of combinations in three-dimensional collage) cemented his place in art history.

As Pop Art emerged in the ’60s, he turned away from three-dimensional combines and began to work in two dimensions, using magazine photographs of current events to create silk-screen prints. He transferred prints of familiar images, such as JFK or baseball games, to canvases and overlapped them with painted brushstrokes. They looked like abstractions from a distance, but up close the images related to each other, as if in conversation. These collages were a way of bringing together the inventiveness of his combines with his love for painting. Using this new method he found he could make a commentary on contemporary society using the very images that helped to create that society.

From the mid '60s through the '70s he continued the experimentation in prints by printing onto aluminum, moving plexiglass disks, clothes, and other surfaces. He challenged the view of the artist as auteur by assembling engineers to help in the production of pieces technologically designed to incorporate the viewer as an active participant in the work. He also created performance pieces centered around chance. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s he continued his experimentation, concentrating primarily on collage and new ways to transfer photographs.