The work of Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008) sits between two of the big ‘isms’ of twentieth century American Art: Abstract Expressionism and Pop, both in chronology and style. He incorporated vernacular ‘found’ material into paintings — he called them ‘combines’ — that also contained expressive brush-work. It is perhaps appropriate that he famously said that he wanted to work ‘in the gap between art and life’.
Rauschenberg was a giant of twentieth century art and his work has a lasting influence. It is hard to imagine Duchamp’s influence being so pervasive without Rauschenberg’s championing of him (along with his friend Jasper Johns) in the late 1950s / early 1960s. Nor is it likely that Warhol or Lichtenstein would have been to play so easily with advertising material. Rauschenberg, for example, silk-screened images directly onto canvasses, presaging the technique Warhol would make his own. His influence wasn’t just on American art, though. Traces of Rauschenberg’s pluralist approach to making is visible in the work of artists like Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter.
For artists working today Rauschenberg’s influence is perhaps even more important as his method has become so deeply embedded in contemporary studio practice. Rauschenberg made it acceptable – expected, even – that artists would make work across disciplines and boundaries and often incorporate a performative element into that work. Artists such as Haroon Mizra, Sarah Lucas, Bedwyr Williams, Tomoko Takahashi, and Goshka Macuga all owe a debt to Rauschenberg.
Two of his most notorious works are not paintings at all. Erased De Kooning (1953) is just that, a drawing by Abstract Expressionist de Kooning erased by Rauschenberg and then framed. In 1961 he was asked to provide a portrait of gallerist Iris Clert. He sent a telegram that simply asserted ‘This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so’. These two works are both iconoclastic and witty and the latter presages much of the territory that Conceptual Art would later explore.
The promotional text for the upcoming exhibition at Tate Modern (1 December 2016 — 2 April 2017) summarises his influence as being found in :
[His refusal] to accept conventional categories of what was and wasn’t art. His quest for innovation was fired by his boundless curiosity and enthusiasm for new ways of making, from painting to performance art. He worked with mass, popular and trash imagery and materials – paint, silk-screen printing, found objects, newspapers, politicians, sportsmen, and pop stars.
The article continues:
Iconic works from his six decade career include large-scale pop art screen prints picturing the likes of JF Kennedy; Monogram, a paint splattered taxidermy goat in a car tyre surrounded by street signs; and Bed, soiled sheets spattered with brushmarks.
There is much to take from Rauschenberg’s work in terms of subject, technique, and perhaps most importantly, sensibility. He was a playful and curious artist who saw the opportunities that exist in the spaces created by other artists who were less bold or in retreat. There’s a speculative, enquiring, quality about the work that is at once profound and amusing.
Painting tutors Emma Drye and Bryan Eccleshall will be leading a Study Visit for Level Two and Three students on Saturday 10 December at Tate Modern. It should be a challenging and enjoyable experience for all of us.
OCA will be running a second visit to this for Foundation, Level 1 and any students who cannot make the above on the 21 January 2017.
To reserve your place please email firstname.lastname@example.org or alternatively to request a place on a study visit please click here and complete the form.
For study events that require a ticket, there is a non refundable fee of £10 to pay and your confirmation email will instruct you on how to do this.
Image: Robert Rauschenberg Pearl Street studio c1955 Rauschenberg in his Pearl Street studio with Satellite (1955) and the first state of Monogram (1955–59; first state 1955–56), New York, c.1955 The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (New York, USA)