Robert Rauschenberg lived exquisitely within his times. Those times started back in the 1950’s.
“What was great about the 50s,” remarked American composer Morton Feldman, “is that for one brief moment – maybe say six weeks – nobody understood art.”
The door was open for experimentation. Or you might say, that Alice’s mirror was accepting trips to wonderland. All you had to do was jump in. And did Rauschenberg ever jump! The odd thing — and it is the thing that made him seem a total nut case to those of us who do not jump — is that he kept on jumping. He was never content with a given style or mode of expression. It was just a step towards his next inspiration.
In the 1950s, Rauschenberg dragged wreckage from the downtown streets of New York to his cold-water loft and made plangent, sour and lovely art that reflected his surroundings. He got Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning, whom he greatly revered, to give him a drawing so he could erase it. He used a car tyre to track a drawing across a scroll of paper, and made blank paintings of uninterrupted rollered-on whiteness that inspired his friend John Cage’s never entirely silent 4’33’, where ambient sounds fall before a silent piano. Rauschenberg’s white painting reflects only light, gathers dust, stands as mute potential. You need only do this once. He made red paintings and black paintings and paintings that combined and complicated the medium in unexpected ways. Each new move was a foil to the last, and he kept on moving.
Check out the Guardian article for its review of the Rauschenberg exhibit at the Tate. Mad as a hatter, and fun if you let the urge catch your imagination.
Here is a work form his pop art phase