♢ EDITORIAL by Sal McIntyre, New York ♢
Enduring Pop Art predecessor Robert Rauschenberg is most well known for his tropical storm of montaged imagery, delving into any and all media that might be explored including paint, ink, glue, construction materials, graphite, charcoal, markers, objects as printing elements, photography, sculpture, assemblage and even concept as a material. For one of the most inventive and original artists of his time, and someone who carved an incendiary new mentality which helped inspire one of the most important art movements in modern history, Rauschenberg’s art school professor— none other than Josef Albers, a founder of the Bauhaus— clearly held a career-defining role. Albers' coursework, to the tone of strict discipline, did not allow for "uninfluenced experimentation," something Rauschenberg described as impelling him to do the exact opposite.
This untethered approach to artistic expression is precisely part of the recipe of Rauschenberg’s magic, something that found its way out into the open no matter the medium or context in which he worked. Two telling examples of this unscathable spirit are found in his very dealings with the art world itself. When in 1961 he was invited to participate in an exhibition at the Galerie Iris Clert, where artists were to create a portrait of the owner Iris Clert, Rauschenberg's submission consisted of a telegram sent to the gallery declaring "This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so." And in a famously cited incident from 1953, Rauschenberg erased a drawing by de Kooning, which he obtained from his colleague for the express purpose of erasing it as an artistic statement. The result is titled Erased de Kooning Drawing, and since 1998 hangs in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Rauschenberg’s fierce yet buoyant personality is evident in every line he makes, a prime example being this signed 1997 piece Eagle. It is easy to see how deeply his aesthetic has influenced the art world— whether we are aware of it or not, his multiple image arrangements foretell the permeation of photoshop.
In this 1981 poster for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Rauschenberg manages to maintain a brilliant clarity of visual purpose, despite so many layers of information. Like a complex yet coherent musical performance, his work is simultaneously anchoring and inspiring.
For this Untitled signed mixed media work from 1984 a feverish parade of dreamlike associations are balanced by a spare color palette and “retro”-feeling structured composition, calling to mind artist’s bars, music cafes and city studio hangouts. A very unique piece in an edition of 75, Rauschenberg hand cut and assembled this collage of images of varying printing techniques into a stepped shape that is not a complete rectangle, creating the potential to add dimension and movement to any overly square space.
Favor Rites II features a perfect concoction of many of Rauschenberg’s favorite methods, including using photographic negatives as printing objects, pictures of things like famous sculpture and even hand painted abstract expressionism.
With his Earth Day poster, a signed piece from 1970, the scale of small handmade paper assembly contrasts with large concept subject matter to form an intimate and compelling perspective on this ever-relevant and important theme. Rauschenberg’s electric vision is ultimately what drives these artworks, coursing through his veins and out onto his canvases.
In a piece like St. Louis Symphony Orchestra it is pleasingly difficult to find the plane of space we are traveling in, the whole work being created on an image of a map, then being overlaid with architectural photographs, portraits, blocks of color and dancing typography. That the whole composition is both swimming and balanced is only exemplary of Rauschenberg’s innate talent.
In another signed work from 1996, a simpler image construction is no less magnetic— evidence of his artistic elbow grease can be found in the beautiful way the image decays on contact with his paper, a testament to Rauschenberg’s free and uninhibited working methods and experimentation with the very material of artmaking itself. Not simply a print of a Bicycle, this piece is art of the action of artistic process, something that infuses into the expression and offers a distinct mood that is unquestionable.
And in a notably quieter piece, Untitled, Rauschenberg makes a mysterious and delightful analogy between two sets of images, the meaning of which is perhaps not important to pin down. The work leaves the aftertaste of a rare-found empty space in the mind, an unexpected pleasure.