The complete suite of Robert Rauschenberg’s Rookery Mounds is reunited for the first time since they were initially exhibited at the legendary Castelli Graphics in 1979. This historic series of eleven lithographs marks the first printmaking project in which Rauschenberg utilized his own photographs, taken in and around the environs of his Captiva Island residence. Rauschenberg had taken thousands of pictures in preparation for Glacial Decoy, his collaboration with choreographer Trisha Brown in which he designed sets and costumes, and he stated, “I became addicted to photography again…The camera heightened my desire to look.” It is a selection of those photographs that Rauschenberg brought to the Gemini workshop in Los Angeles for the creation of Rookery Mounds, and it is this series that heralded a new direction for Rauschenberg.
Much of the photographic imagery which appears in Rookery Mounds looms large on the page, and is relatively unlayered. Rauschenberg is making a statement: this is not found imagery, these are my photographs. Wheels, tires, fabrics, water, plants and other familiar Rauschenberg visual elements make their appearance in these prints.
Rauschenberg almost always worked serially; in much the same way his individual works move the viewer’s eye around the work in its totality by the repeated use of a single image, he often slyly linked the works within a series to one another by the repetition of identical or similar images or forms. In Rookery Mounds, the appearance of checkered patterns, oceans and a variety of circular and rectangular forms connect the eleven prints.
All of the Rookery Mounds are printed on exquisite sheets of deckled-edged paper, specially made for the project by Twinrocker. Based in Brookston, Indiana, Twinrocker has been instrumental in the revival of hand papermaking in America, and worked so directly with Rauschenberg and Gemini on the project that large Rauschenberg initials, “RR,” are watermarked into the lower left corner of each sheet. This collaboration clearly impacted Rauschenberg’s use of the edges of the paper; a key element of Rookery Mounds is that the imagery embraces and thereby focuses the viewer’s attention to the Twinrocker paper’s stunning deckles.
Having just received the prestigious Grand Prix d’Honneur at the Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts, the series made its domestic debut on December 8, 1979, at Castelli Graphics, New York. In a memorable exhibition, the eleven 41x31-inch works circled the room which for years had been the location of Leo Castelli’s famed painting gallery and now solely exhibited the graphic endeavors of his artists. Then and thereafter, Rookery Mounds was celebrated as a series but rarely collected or exhibited as an entire suite.