He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1993. He became the recipient of the Leonardo da Vinci World Award of Arts in 1995 in recognition of his more than 40 years of fruitful artmaking.
Rauschenberg lived and worked in New York City as well as on Captiva Island, Florida until his death from heart failure on May 12, 2008.
At 16, Rauschenberg was admitted to the University of Texas where he began studying pharmacy. He was drafted into the United States Navy in 1943. Based in California, he served as a mental hospital technician until his discharge in 1945.
Rauschenberg subsequently studied at the Kansas City
Art Institute and the Académie Julian in Paris, France, where he met the painter Susan Weil. In 1948 Rauschenberg and Weil decided to attend Black Mountain College in North Carolina.
From 1949 to 1952 Rauschenberg studied with Vaclav Vytlacil and Morris Kantor at the Art Students League of New York, where he met fellow artists Knox Martin and Cy Twombly.
Rauschenberg married Susan Weil in the summer of 1950 at the Weil family home in Outer Island, Connecticut. Their only child, Christopher, was born July 16, 1951. The two separated in June 1952 and divorced in 1953. According to a 1987 oral history by the composer Morton Feldman, after the end of his marriage, Rauschenberg had romantic relationships with fellow artists Cy Twombly and Jasper Johns. An article by Jonathan D. Katz states that Rauschenberg’s affair with Twombly began during his marriage to Susan Weil.
Rauschenberg’s approach was sometimes called “Neo Dadaist,” a label he shared with the painter Jasper Johns. Rauschenberg was quoted as saying that he wanted to work “in the gap between art and life” suggesting he questioned the distinction between art objects and everyday objects, reminiscent of the issues raised by the “Fountain”, by Dada pioneer, Marcel Duchamp. At the same time, Johns’ paintings of numerals, flags, and the like, were reprising Duchamp’s message of the role of the observer in creating art’s meaning.
Alternatively, in 1961, Rauschenberg took a step in what could be considered the opposite direction by championing the role of creator in creating art’s meaning. Rauschenberg was invited to participate in an exhibition at the Galerie Iris Clert, where artists were to create and display a portrait of the owner, Iris Clert. Rauschenberg’s submission consisted of a telegram sent to the gallery declaring “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so.”
Robert Rauschenberg, Riding Bikes, Berlin, Germany, 1998.
By 1962, Rauschenberg’s paintings were beginning to incorporate not only found objects but found images as well – photographs transferred to the canvas by means of the silkscreen process. Previously used only in commercial applications, silkscreen allowed Rauschenberg to address the multiple reproducibility of images, and the consequent flattening of experience that implies. In this respect, his work is contemporaneous with that of Andy Warhol, and both Rauschenberg and Johns are frequently cited as important forer
unners of American Pop Art.
In 1966, Billy Klüver and Rauschenberg officially launched Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) a non-profit organization established to promote collaborations between artists and engineers.
In 1969, NASA invited Rauschenberg to witness the launch of Apollo 11. In response to this landmark event, Rauschenberg created his Stoned Moon Series of lithographs. This involved combining diagrams and other images from NASA’s archives with photographs from various media outlets, as well as with his own work.
From 1970 he worked from his home and studio in Captiva, Florida. His first project on Captiva Island was a 16.5-meter-long silkscreen print called Currents (1970), made with newspapers from the first two months of the year, followed by Cardboards (1970–71) and Early Egyptians (1973–74), the latter of which is a series of wall reliefs and sculptures constructed from used boxes. He also printed on textiles using his solvent-transfer technique to make the Hoarfrosts (1974–76) and Spreads (1975–82), and in the Jammers (1975–76), created a series of colorful silk wall and floor works. Urban Bourbons (1988–95) focused on different methods of transferring images onto a variety of reflective metals, such as steel and aluminum. In addition, throughout the 1990s, Rauschenberg continued to utilize new materials while still working with more rudimentary techniques, such as wet fresco, as in the Arcadian Retreat (1996) series, and the transfer of images by hand, as in the Anagrams (1995–2000). As part of his engagement with the latest technological innovations, he began making digital Iris prints and using biodegradable vegetable dyes in his transfer processes, underscoring his commitment to caring for the environment.
The White Paintings, Black Paintings, and Red Paintings
Robert Rauschenberg, untitled “combine,” 1963.
ntly lead to the possibility of pure experience. The “White Paintings” were shown at Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery in New York during October 1953. They appear at first to be essentially blank, white canvas. However, one commentator said that “…rather than thinking of them as destructive reductions, it might be more productive to see them, as John Cage did, as hypersensitive screens – what Cage suggestively described as ‘airports of the lights, shadows and particles.’ In front of them, the smallest adjustments in lighting and atmosphere might be registered on their surface. Rauschenberg himself said that they were affected by ambient conditions, “so you could almost tell how many people are in the room”. The Black Paintings of 1951 like the White Paintings were executed on multiple panels and were single color works. Here Rauschenberg incorporated pieces of newspaper into the painting working the paper into the paint so that sometimes newspaper could be seen and in other places could not. By 1953-1954 Rauschenberg had moved from the monochromatic paintings of the White Painting and Black Painting series, to the Red Painting series. These paintings were created with diverse kinds of paint applications of red paint, and with the addition of materials such as wood, nails, newsprint and other materials to the canvas created complex painting surfaces, and were forerunners of Rauschenberg’s well-known Combine series.
Rauschenberg picked up trash and found objects that interested him on the streets of New York City and brought these back to his studio where they could become integrated into his work. He claimed he “wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted to use the surprise and the collectiveness and the generosity of finding surprises. And if it wasn’t a surprise at first, by the time I got through with it, it was. So the object itself was changed by its context and therefore it became a new thing.”
Rauschenberg’s comment concerning the gap between art and life can be seen as a statement which provides the departure point for an understanding of his contributions as an artist. In particular his series of works which he called Combines served as instances in which the delineated boundaries between art and sculpture were broken down so that both were present in a single work of art. Technically “Combines” refers to Rauschenberg’s work from 1954 to 1962, but the artist had begun collaging newsprint and photographic materials in his work and the impetus to combine both painting materials and everyday objects such as clothing, urban debris, and taxidermied animals such as in Monogram continued throughout his artistic life.
His transitional pieces that led to the creation of Combines were Charlene (1954) and Collection (1954) where he combined collage technique and started to incorporate objects such as scarves, comic strips, and faux architectural cornice pieces. Considered one of the first of the Combines, Bed (1955) was created by dripping red paint across a quilt. The quilt was later stretched and displayed as a work of art. Some critics according to The Daily Telegraph considered the work to be a symbol for violence and rape.
ics originally viewed the Combines in terms of the formal aspects of art, shape, color, texture, and the composition and arrangement of these. This 1960s view has changed over time so that more recently critics and art historians see the Combines as carrying coded messages difficult to decipher because there is no apparent order to the presentation of the objects. Canyon (1959) features a stuffed bald eagle which drew government ire due to the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, but the stuffed angora goat with paint applied to its snout in his Monogram (1955-1959) was without controversy.
Performance and dance
In 1966, Rauschenberg’s created the Open Score performance for part of 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering at the 69th Regiment Armory, New York. The series was instrumental in the formation of the Experiments in Art and Technology foundation.
In 1983, he won a Grammy Award for his album design of Talking Heads’ album Speaking in Tongues. In 1986 Rauschenberg was commissioned by BMW to paint a full size BMW 635 CSi for the sixth installment of the famed BMW Art Car Project. Rauschenberg’s contribution was the first to include the wheels in the project, as well as incorporating previous works of art into the design. In 1998, the Vatican commissioned (and later refused) a work by Rauschenberg based on the Apocalypse to commemorate Pio of Pietrelcina, the controversial Franciscan priest who died in 1968 and who is revered for having had stigmata and a saintly aura, at Renzo Piano’s Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church in Foggia, Italy.