Robert Rauschenberg 1925 – 2008

I first heard and saw pieces of Robert Rauschenberg’s works in London at the Barbican Center during a class visit. I was in awe, not for their beauty and uniqueness, but because I had finally discovered an artist whose work I can relate to. You see, I paint, and recently, I came out of retirement and took the brushes out again.

I have drawn a lot of still-life and landscapes, even figurative pieces (old school but a must according to my mentor for the beginning of my portfolio), My heart, however, is eager and set to paint and create contemporary artwork.

I have a lot of creative ideas I cannot wait to implement on canvas. Two already done and hung at home.


Now back to Robert, before I get off road….


Robert Rauschenberg (R.R) was an american artist, born on October 22, 1925 in Port Arthur Texas. His childhood dream was to become a priest at the local church but in 1944 he was enrolled in the US navy and dealt with traumatized patients. He used to refer to art as a healing process to sooth the injured and hence realized that he can himself become an artist as well.

Returning home he enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute, then the Academie Julien in Paris. He met a fellow student (later his wife) Susan Weil and both applied to pursue their passion at the Black Mountain College (BMC) in North Carolina in 1948. His years at BMC shaped the artist within him and influenced his art work.

During that period, abstract expressionism dominated the art scene with the works from Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning. However, R.R brought a new genre to his art; he used many types of medium simultaneously (photographs, postcards, letters, t-shirt, coca cola bottles, stuffed chicken.. ). People were astonished at the presentation of these kind of mixture and their reaction was of shock and distaste at times.

In 1951, Barnet Newman took a chance on R.R and exposed his work in her NYC gallery. Although no sales were made, the name Robert Rauschenberg was on every ones tongue. As the true artist that he is, R.R did not limit himself to painting only. He took photographs from his travelings abroad, he made many sculptures and took part in performance acts.

Let us look into a few of his genres:

– The White Paintings project: He used a roller to spread white paints on his canvas which came into contradiction with the gestural brushstrokes of Jackson Pollocks’ paintings. He implied a spiritual meaning to these works.


– The Black Paintings project: This project was seen as the twin work of the White Paintings , however he used collages from newspapers before painting the canvases all black. You could notice a flicker of instability on its surface.


– A collaboration with another artist at that time, John Cage (who was believed to be his lover) led the latter to compose a 4min 33second silent musical piece. I will never forget when our course leader made us listen to this piece; the whole class stayed silent, everyone looking at each other not knowing what to expect. Yet we were listening to John Cage’s 4’33” art (an awkward moment indeed)

(Very relaxing note)

– The Red Painting project: These series gave him the nickname of ” L’enfant terrible”. He used vibrant red colors into his canvas and he collaged newspapers beforehand. Moreover he collaged comic strips, polka dots and attached fabric onto his canvases. Personally this series attracted the attention of many people when exposed.

We notice that many of the canvases painted during this period are of the same genre. Red reflecting one’s emotion and state of mind.


Furthermore, R.R travelled abroad so as to discover new cultures and the art genres happening outside the United States. He took a lot of pictures from his travels, and collected boxes enclosing feather and bones. Proving once more that there is more to art than painting. He combined his pictures into his paintings and his experiments allowed artists to follow his path and go beyond their potential.

He also permitted the viewers to interact with his work; through “Music Box” which consisted of a wooden box that had several antique nails driven into it. Three stones were placed in the box and upon shaking it the stones would tumble upon the nails making several sounds at the same time. This work reminded critics of Marcel Duchamp’s “Hidden Noise” (a small object hidden in a twine rattles when shaken). The latter when seeing “Music Box” told him ” I think I have heard that song before”.



Art critics viewed Robert Rauschenberg’s work as anti-Dada; the White Paintings were deemed empty, the Black Paintings as destructive and the “Musical Box” as a copy. The assimilation of his work to Dadaism persuaded people that R.R was attacking abstract expressionism and his fellow colleagues (let us not forget that Dada was assimilated to anti-art at its time). However they were all wrong as R.R was only going beyond his boundaries and setting way to a new art form.

So much can be said about Robert Rauschenberg, however I only intended to spark your interest at one of the pioneer of Pop Art (and did I mention my favorite artist!!). There are a lot of books on this artist and website articles about his work (one loses count).

I will leave you with the following quote and continue my reading on R.R’s famous art piece “Monogram” (Check it out)

“You can’t make either life or art, you have to work in the hole in between, which is undefined. That’s what makes the adventure of painting.” Robert Rauschenberg


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