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Florida Artists: Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg, Canyon, Combine on canvas, 1959One of the truly influential artists of the 20th century, the works of Robert Rauschenberg are included in the collections of major museums throughout the world. Rauschenberg was a primary figure during the important 1950's and 1960's era in New York, which strongly shaped the direction of modern art. He has both founded and funded organizations to help artists, such as the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange (ROCI), founded in 1983. Rauschenberg lived and worked in New York City and on Captiva Island, Florida until his death, May 12, 2008, from heart failure.

Robert Rauschenberg, born Milton Ernst Rauschenberg,  was an American artist who came to prominence in the 1950s transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art. Rauschenberg is perhaps most famous for his "Combines" of the 1950s, in which non-traditional materials and objects were employed in innovative combinations. While the Combines are both painting and sculpture, Rauschenberg also worked with photography, printmaking, papermaking, and performance art.

Born in Port Arthur, Texas in 1925, Robert Rauschenberg imagined himself first as a minister and later as a pharmacist. It wasn’t until 1947, while in the U.S. Marines that he discovered his aptitude for drawing and his interest in the artistic representation of everyday objects and people. After leaving the Marines he studied art in Paris on the G.I. Bill, but quickly became disenchanted with the European art scene. After less than a year he moved to North Carolina, where the country’s most visionary artists and thinkers, such as Joseph Albers and Buckminster Fuller, were teaching at Black Mountain College.

Rauschenberg found his signature mode of painting by embracing materials traditionally outside of the artist’s reach. He would cover a canvas with house paint, or ink the wheel of a car and run it over paper to create a drawing, while demonstrating rigor and concern for formal painting.


Robert Rauschenberg Retroactive II 1963In 1953 Robert Rauschenberg exhibited "Erased De Kooning Drawing", a drawing by Willem De Kooning which Rauschenberg erased. It raised many questions about the fundamental nature of art, challenging the viewer to consider whether erasing another artist's work could be a creative act, as well as whether the work was only "art" because the famous Rauschenberg had done it.

Rauschenberg's approach was sometimes called "Neo-Dada," a label he shared with the painter Jasper Johns. Rauschenberg's oft-repeated quote that he wanted to work "in the gap between art and life" suggested a questioning of the distinction between art objects and everyday objects, reminiscent of the issues raised by the notorious "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."

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 forerunners of American Pop Art. 

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Florida Artist
Florida Artist
Robert Rauschenberg, born Milton Ernst Rauschenberg, was an American artist who came to prominence in the 1950s transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art. Rauschenberg is perhaps most famous for his "Combines" of the 1950s, in which non-traditional materials and objects were employed in innovative combinations. While the Combines are both painting and sculpture, Rauschenberg also worked with photography, printmaking, papermaking, and performance art.
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