Robert Rauschenberg studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Académie Julian in Paris, France, before enrolling in 1948 at the legendary Black Mountain College in North Carolina.
Robert Rauschenberg ,Untitled, ca. 1954
As a young artist Rauschenberg married the painter Susan Weil. The two met while attending the Academie Julian in Paris, and in 1948 both decided to attend Black Mountain College in North Carolina to study under Josef Albers. Robert Rauschenberg and Susan Weil were married in the summer of 1950. Their son, Christopher was born on July 16, 1951. The two separated in June 1952. At Black Mountain his painting instructor was the renowned Bauhaus figure Josef Albers, whose rigid discipline and sense of method inspired Rauschenberg, as he once said, to do “exactly the reverse” of what Albers taught him.
1986 BMW 635 CSi Art Car by Robert Rauschenberg
Composer John Cage, whose music of chance occurrences and found sounds perfectly suited Rauschenberg’s personality, was also a member of the Black Mountain faculty. The “white paintings” produced by Rauschenberg at Black Mountain in 1951, while they contain no images at all, are said to be so exceptionally blank and reflective that their surfaces respond and change in sympathy with the ambient conditions in which they are shown, “so you could almost tell how many people are in the room,” as Rauschenberg once commented. The White Paintings are said to have directly influenced Cage in the composition of his completely “silent” piece titled 4’33” the following year.
In 1952 Rauschenberg began his series of “Black Paintings” and “Red Paintings,” in which large, expressionistically brushed areas of color were combined with collage and found objects attached to the canvas. These so-called “Combine Paintings” ultimately came to include such heretofore un-painterly objects as a stuffed goat and the artist’s own bed quilt, breaking down traditional boundaries between painting and sculpture, reportedly prompting one Abstract Expressionist painter to remark, “If this is Modern Art, then I quit!” Rauschenberg’s Combines provided inspiration for a generation of artists seeking alternatives to traditional artistic media.
Robert Rauschenberg (art director) for Speaking in Tongues performed by Talking Heads
Rauschenberg’s approach was sometimes called “Neo-Dada,” a label he shared with the painter and close friend, 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” of 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 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.
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 addition to painting and sculpture, Rauschenberg’s long career has also included significant contributions to printmaking and Performance Art. He also won a Grammy Award for his album design of the Talking Heads album Speaking in Tongues. As of 2003 he continues to work from his home and studio in Captiva, Florida.