City Lit Blog

An introduction to Robert Rauschenberg, by City Lit's Amanda Knight

Story added 23rd Feb 2017

Amanda Knight - sketchbook detail - Rhyme by Rauschenberg

Read City Lit tutor Amanda Knight, and her thoughts on why legendary artist Robert Rauschenberg continues to fascinate and inspire to this day…

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One thing that set Robert Rauschenberg apart from his fellow New York painters was that he painted on discarded objects as if they were regular canvases. The paint exists as paint, the objects as objects. The alchemy was in the willingness to permit it to happen. Rauschenberg spoke of the need for both artist and materials to surrender to the dialogue:

‘When an object you are using does not stand out but yields its presence to what you are doing, it collaborates so to speak – it implies a kind of harmony.’

 

Amanda Knight - Collaging with found objects - Test piece

 Amanda Knight - Collaging with found objects - Test piece

 

Rauschenberg saw infinite creative potential in mundane materials (a sensitivity honed by his former-Bauhaus tutor Josef Albers to whom he paid great credit).  He was also acutely aware of the material excesses of modern-living, another ethos handed down from post-war Bauhaus.  He enjoyed the ‘gifts from the street’ – stuff he found on the pavement – and used them in a celebratory rather than scolding way.  That is not to underestimate the depth of his political and critical understanding, which was profound and much pored over by art critics, but his over-riding ethos was one of positivity.  

 

Amanda Knight - Research Sketch - 'Monogram' by Robert Rauschenberg copy

Amanda Knight - Research Sketch - 'Monogram' by Robert Rauschenberg

 

With so much to distract the eye in Rauschenberg’s work, it is sometimes easy to over-look how well he used paint and colour.  All types of ‘paint personality’ are present in his works: matte, plastic,  glossy, feathery wispy veils of paint, tawdry glazes. It is a testimony to his range that he could handle such shifts in painterly surface, form and arrangement while allowing the embedded materials to speak and resolve their relationships with the whole. 

 

Amanda Knight - research collage - Rhyme 1956 by Robert Rauschenberg

Amanda Knight - research collage - Rhyme 1956 by Robert Rauschenberg

 

Amanda Knight - painting onto reclaim - inspired by Rauschenberg

Amanda Knight - painting onto reclaim - inspired by Rauschenberg 

 

What we can learn from Rauschenberg is to keep trying things you are not sure about, that’s when the magic happens:

‘It's when you've found out how to do certain things, that it's time to stop doing them, because what's missing is that you're not including the risk’. (Robert Rauschenberg)

 

Amanda Knight - glazing collaged fabrics - inspired by Rauschenberg copy

Amanda Knight - glazing collaged fabrics - inspired by Rauschenberg copy

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