|Rauschenberg and Susan Weil: untitled, 1950 (exposed blueprint paper, more than 6' in length)||Rauschenberg: White Painting (4 panels), 1951||Rauschenberg: untitled (glossy, 4-paneled black painting), ca 1951|
|Charlene, 1953-4 (4 panels, multiple materials, 7'5 x 9'4)||Collection, 1954|
As he increasingly reveals more of the substances and materials incorporated in the surface of the painting, the work seems less like paintings and more like a combination of painting and assemblage. In Charlene and Collection, the elements increasingly maintain their identity not only as material substances but as subject matter: autobiography, references to art history and references to other media. The "combines" take this assertion of identity much further.
|Monogram, 1955-9||The Bed, 1955|
Rauschenberg worked on Monogram for four years, trying to find the right placement for the goat (given to him by a friend). Eventually, he arrives at the arrangement of making the painting into an environment for the goat, which means that the space of the painting is forced to accommodate the goat as a 3-dimensional reality. Rauschenberg said that his goal was to make a picture out of the real world, rather than to make the picture look like the real world, to capture reality as a collage of details which maintains the identity of the original objects and materials. Monogram would appear to be a major step in that direction.
The Bed falls in the same period as Monogram although he completed it much more quickly. Interpretations of the Bed have been influenced by sociocultural changes and expectations of art, and associations with the idea and image of the bed:
|Rauschenberg and Weil, untitled (Sue), 1950||Rauschenberg: Booster, 1966-7||Cy Twombly: School of Athens, 1961|
The quilt in the bed may be a double
reference: to Josef Albers' paintings of squares and to his own mother
who made much of his clothing when he was younger. The stains on
the pillow appear to be a reference to the work of Cy Twombly, an artist
who occasionally worked in Rauschenberg's studio and whose work Rauschenberg
described as an accumulation of "erotic paint."
The image of a bed itself has associations with domesticity, with women, with the site of birth; this bed has associations with violence as well. Any bed, of course, has the potential to evoke multiple messages, just as this one does. Since so many of those meanings have to do with passages or transformations of some sort, it is tempting to see Rauschenberg's Bed as marking the site of his own transformation: a new passage from one stage of his life in his art making to another and one stage of his awareness and acknowledgment of his sexual identity to another.
|Canto XXXI: The Central Pit of Malebolge, the Giants||Canto XXXIV: Circle Nine, Cocytus, Compound Fraud: Round 4, Judecca, Treacherous to their Masters|
He began to work with transfer techniques
in the fifties, using them to take real images and incorporate them in
his work. From the first, he chose to leave signs of the process
in his work, preferring the look of the handmade to the finished and refined
look of printing. Yet these are combines, although they remain in
the realm of the two-dimensional: collaged works in which the separation
of media is not visible. Shortly after he began to use transfer techniques,
he added silkscreening as a means of enlarging scale and reusing images.
Barge, a work which is one canvas, 32 feet in length, might be seen
as almost an index or lexicon of his vocabulary. Water towers refer
to the urban environment, athletes of various types can be found, indications
of space exploration, and allusions to art history–the elements in this
monumental painting had either appeared already in his combines or will
appear in his silkscreens, stage sets, and technological pieces.
|Barge, 1962-3 (oil and silkscreened ink on canvas, 6'7 x 32'2)|
Whereas Barge and Dante's
Inferno are monochromatic, his next ventures into silkscreened works
used color. These works are noted for their recurring imagery which
is a combination of his own drawings and found images, and the large scale.
He uses images from newspaper archives, and popular images from the media,
leading many critics to associate him with pop art. In fact, he is
a precedent for pop, but he departs from pop in a significant way: he does
not favor the cool, detached look that is the preferred mode of most pop
artists. Instead, he continues to favor the appearance of mistakes
|Retroactive I, 1964||Skyway, 1964|
Implicit in his stage designs for Merce Cunningham, lighting design for Paul Taylor's dance theater, and his own involvement on stage in performances and dance was his search for the creation of an art form which would be, in his words, “truly concrete”–the painting, he said, was an elusive work of art by which he seems to mean that the painting, although its materials make it concrete, is open-ended in terms of the interaction it has with the viewer. Dance, in contrast, required an immediate and fluid interaction between the performer and the audience and was therefore a truly concrete work of art.
In addition to performance and collaboration,
another ongoing interest for Rauschenberg was technology. His extensive
work using technology has not been as well known as the rest of his work
largely because of the problems related to display and maintenance, on
one hand, and the fact that much of the technology used in the earlier
works is outmoded today and simply can’t be maintained. But we can
trace this interest of his back to the early fifties, with the use of electric
light in combines such as Charlene and the use of three hidden radios
in a work called Broadcast (1959). Another early and elementary
use of technology appeared in his time paintings which incorporated clocks
that documented the time spent making the piece. By 1962 Rauschenberg
had begun collaborating with Billy Kluver, a research scientist at Bell
Laboratories; together they formed E.A.T.: Experiments in Art and Technology–a
group of artists and scientists who came together regularly for the purpose
of uniting technological concepts with art. For the remainder of
the sixties, he used motion, light and sound in an attempt to created total
environments. In Soundings (1968), sounds made by viewers
activated hidden lighting which then illuminated the images of chairs mirrored
behind layers of plexiglass. In Solstice, of the same year,
the silkscreened sliding doors, on a lit platform, create changing images
in what is essentially a transparent room. Rauschenberg continues
to work with varied forms of technology today, creating both interactive
and non-interactive works.
|EAT: Soundings, 1968 (part of a 38-foot-long work)||EAT: Solstice, 1968|
Ultimately, Rauschenberg's art, despite the fact that it does not demand the presence of actors or performer, is an art of performance and of allegory because of its centralization of the following characteristics: