Robert Rauschenberg was born in 1925 in Port Arthur, Texas. His father was the son of an immigrant doctor from Berlin who married a Cherokee Indian. Robert was given the name Milton at birth, but changed it permanently to Robert in 1947. In 1942, after graduating from high school, Rauschenberg enrolled in a pharmacy course at the University of Texas. He had never excelled in school, but promised his parents that he would give college a chance. Rauschenberg, who had numerous pets as a child, was expelled from the University of Texas for refusing to dissect a live frog.
Rauschenberg was drafted into the United States Navy in 1943. He was assigned to the San Diego Naval Hospital as a neuropsychiatric technician. In 1945, Rauschenberg enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute on the G. I. Bill. He studied abroad in France in 1947. While in Paris, he met Susan Weil, an American student, who he married in 1950.
Rauschenberg studied with Josef Albers at Black Mountain College from 1948 to 1949. He considers Albers to be the most important teacher he ever had. Albers on occasion had his students bring to class interesting discarded objects: bicycle wheels, old tin cans, stones, etc., to study for their aesthetic qualities. This influence is seen in Rauschenberg's collages and constructions using sticks, bones, hair, rocks and feathers. While at Black Mountain College, Rauschenberg met John Cage, the avant-garde composer, and Merce Cunningham, the contemporary dancer and choreographer. The influence of Cage is seen in Rauschenberg's all-white paintings, where the only image was the shadow cast by the viewer. In many respects, the concept in these paintings is similar to the concept in Cage's 4' 33", where the only sounds in the composition are those generated by the audience.
After leaving Black Mountain College, Rauschenberg moved to New York. Rauschenberg left New York City from 1951 to 1952, while going through a painful divorce. He traveled in Europe, Spain, and North Africa. Returning to New York City, Rauschenberg had very little money so he rented a $10-a-month loft and lived on fifteen cents a day. Because of his financial situation, Rauschenberg often relied on found objects from the streets of Manhattan to make his art. These objects appeared frequently as collage elements in his paintings. These painting's had drips and rough brushwork, which were elements taken from Abstract Expressionism. However, there were pieces of fabric and other objects inserted into the work. This tendency comes from both John Cage and Marcel Duchamp — the belief that anything can be art. Any element from the real world can be incorporated into a painting: newspapers, photos, signs, and pieces of wood. During this time, Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were friends and shared a studio. However, as success came to them they eventually became rivals and enemies. Johns' work is similar to Rauschenberg's, but there is a very important and identifiable difference: Rauschenberg inserted real things into his paintings and sculpture, while Johns portrays things from reality in paint or sculpture. In this way Johns was a much more traditional artist, while Rauschenberg's work is closer to the readymades by Duchamp.
In 1955, he coined the term "combine painting," which described a new format for his art. This included the incorporating of actual objects while allowing each object to retain its own identity. In his combine titled Bed , Rauschenberg used his own bed quilt stretched over a frame. He added a pillow and dribbled paint over it. Perhaps Rauschenberg's best-known combine is Monogram, which he began in 1955 and worked on for the next three years. It is a painting that lies on the floor with a stuffed Angora goat standing on it with an old rubber tire around its belly and paint applied to the face of goat and the base in the style of the Abstract Expressionists. In work like this, Rauschenberg explored relationships between painting and sculpture: he combined them, and over the years his paintings became increasingly three-dimensional.
In 1959, while exhibiting at the Leo Castelli Gallery, Rauschenberg added new elements to his combines. In his work titled "Broadcast", Rauschenberg introduced sound, achieved by wiring three radios, tuned to different stations, to his painting. This marked a beginning in an interest in technology, which eventually led him to found a group call "Experiments in Art and Technology" (E.A.T.), which brought engineers and artists together to work on collaborative projects.
In the 1960's, Rauschenberg began to use silkscreen transfers of photographs with other images and designs in his paintings. He also collaborated with Merce Cunningham and John Cage on dance productions as a set and costume designer, lighting expert, and stage manager and also danced occasionally.
Since the 1970's, Rauschenberg has concentrated on a printmaking process, which combines photo-images and hand-drawings. He had a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1977 and one at the Guggenheim museum in 1998. In addition to being one of the founding fathers of Pop Art (along with Jasper Johns), he is considered one of America's most important artists and in 2000 was awarded the prestigious Wexner Award here at Ohio State.
Rauschenberg has a studio in Manhattan, but spends most of his time at his home on Captiva Island.
Although there is no single inclusive site that contains an abundance of Raushenberg's work for you to look at, the several sites listed below will help you explore images of his work.
Page author: C.A.