Rauschenberg: Posters for a Better World

By Johnson, Mark M. | Arts & Activities, October 2005 | Go to article overview

Rauschenberg: Posters for a Better World


Johnson, Mark M., Arts & Activities


"It comes as something of a shock to I recall that Robert Rauschenberg has been a symbol of the new for some twenty-five years. During that time a great variety of fashions in art have come and gone, yet Rauschenberg has remained very much himself and, contrary to rule, perpetually new.... We are pleased ... to salute the fresh store of creative energy, surprise and wonder that Robert Rauschenberg has bestowed on American art and the welcome testimony to the joys of an inner aesthetic harmony that it brings with it." *

These well-deserved words of praise were written by Joshua Taylor, one of the great museum directors of the 20th century, in a landmark catalogue on Robert Rauschenberg. This statement was published 29 years ago and yet, the same tribute could still be accorded to this artist today in a career that has now spanned more than a half-century.

Robert Rauschenberg unquestionably must be regarded as one of the most talented, experimental, versatile, productive, prolific, influential and esteemed artists of our time. As an artist who gained prominence in the turbulent and exciting 1960s, he was instrumental in the transition from abstract expressionism toward a return to the object and representationalism.

Born in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1925, Robert Rauschenberg studied pharmacology at the University of Texas and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II before making the decision to study art He studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, the Academie Julian in Paris, Black Mountain College in North Carolina and the Art Students League in New York. Although he considers Joseph Albers his most important teacher, some of his early series of paintings might be compared to those by Barnett Newman and Willem de Kooning.

From his earliest works, Rauschenberg has been highly experimental in his utilization and combinations of media. He investigated the use of photographic blueprints and incorporated the widest variety of items into his compositions.

By the early 1950s Rauschenberg developed what he called "combine-paintings," in which three-dimensional elements are integrated onto the canvas. These pioneering and often extraordinary works fuse expressionistic passages of painting with untraditional objects such as bedding material, clocks, an automobile tire and a stuffed ram! Over the years, there is virtually no material or technique that has not been considered by this artist for a work of art, installation or performance.

By the 1960s, Rauschenberg fully embraced the art and techniques of printmaking. He applied his signature collage style to creating lithographs and silkscreen prints that combined familiar images from popular culture and current events in an original and radical manner.

Robert Rauschenberg believes that artists must be engaged in "determining the fate of the Earth." Therefore, his art and prints address the widest variety of contemporary issues including social, political and environmental concerns, among many other topics. Because of his artistic and social advocacy, Rauschenberg earned the title "artist-citizen" in 1976 during his critically acclaimed exhibition at the National Collection of Fine Arts (now called the Smithsonian American Art Museum). …

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