American artist Robert Rauschenberg died Monday at age 82. Jeffrey Brown looks back at the life and work of the acclaimed pop artist.
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From the everyday — an old three-speed rocket bike with fat tires — to the eccentric — a stuffed goat wearing a tire — Robert Rauschenberg’s work was always surprising and sometimes perplexing. He’s been celebrated as one of the most influential artists of the second half of the 20th century.
Rauschenberg was born in Port Arthur, Texas, at a time and place, he once said, where “it was very easy to grow up without ever seeing a painting.”
He first gained notice on the art scene in the early 1950s and came to be known best for works that pushed the very idea of what a painting or sculpture could be.
Incorporating everyday and found objects into his art, Rauschenberg created collages and what he called “combines.” He was also known for his experiments with printmaking and had this to say in the late ’90s.
ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG, artist:
The working process is ideally freeing my mind. I consider it a one-to-one collaboration with the materials that I’m using. I want my paintings to look like what’s going on outside my window rather than what’s inside my studio.
Robert Rauschenberg died of heart failure last night at his home in Captiva, Fla. He was 82 years old.
And joining us now to talk about the artist and his influence is Christopher Knight, art critic for the Los Angeles Times.
Well, we talked about an artist who was hugely influential, who helped change the face of art. What exactly does that mean? How did he do it?
CHRISTOPHER KNIGHT, Los Angeles Times:
Well, there were really two ways in which he contributed to changing the way both Americans and European art has looked for the last 50 years.
The first way was he was instrumental in reintroducing representational imagery into avant-garde art. In the 1950s, if you had ambitions of being a significant artist, essentially that meant that pure, abstract painting is what you were expected to do. And that’s not what Rauschenberg did.
The second thing that he upended was that very idea of purity contained in pure, abstract painting. Rather than purity, he introduced a hybrid kind of art.
The combine paintings that he made were part-sculpture, part-painting, part-drawing, part-photography, part-printmaking. And essentially he smooshed them all together into these combines, which were like collages on steroids.