Robert Rauschenberg


Robert Rauschenberg (born Milton Ernst Rauschenberg; October 22, 1925 – May 12, 2008) 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, paper-making, and performance.Rauschenberg lived and worked in New York City and on Captiva Island, Florida until his death, May 12, 2008, from heart failure.

He was born as Milton Ernst Rauschenberg (he changed his first name as an adult) in Port Arthur, Texas, the son of Dora and Ernest Rauschenberg. His father was of German and Cherokee ancestry and his mother of Anglo-Saxon descent. His parents were Fundamentalist Christians. 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 object and people.  After leaving the Marines he studied art in Paris on the G.I. Bill,  where he met the painter Susan Weil, who in the summer of 1950 became his wife. In 1948 Rauschenberg and Weil decided to attend Black Mountain College in North Carolina.Albers originally of the Bauhaus school became Rauschenberg's painting instructor at Black Mountain. Albers' preliminary courses relied on strict discipline that did not allow for any "uninfluenced experimentation". Rauschenberg described Albers as influencing him to do "exactly the reverse" of what he was being taught. 1949 to 1952 Rauschenberg studied with Vaclav Vytlacil and Morris Kantor at the Art Students League of New York, where he met fellow artists Knox Martin and Cy Twombly. There, amidst the chaos and excitement of city life Rauschenberg realized the full extent of what he could bring to painting.  He found his signature mode 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.  By 1958, at the time of his first solo exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery, his work had moved from abstract  paintings to drawings like "Erased De Kooning" ( 1953) which was exactly as it sounds to what he termed "combines".  These combines which expressed both the finding and forming of combinations in three dimensional collage cemented his place in art history.  One of Rauschenberg's first and most famous combines was entitled "Monogram" (1959) consisted of unlikely materials and altered the course of modern art.

From the mid sixties through the seventies he continued the experimentation in prints by printing onto aluminum, moving plexiglass disks, clothes, and other surfaces.  Throughout the 80's and 90's Rauschenberg continued his experimentation, concentrating primarily on collage and new ways to transfer photographs.  In 1998 The Guggenheim Museum put on its largest exhibition ever with four hundred works by Rauschenberg, showcasing the breadth and beauty of his work, and its influence over the second half of the century.  died on May 12, 2008 of heart failure after his personal decision to go off life support, on Captiva Island in Florida. Rauschenberg is survived by his partner of 25 years, artist Darryl Pottorf, his former assistant. Rauschenberg is also survived by his son, photographer Christopher Rauschenberg, and his sister, Janet Begneaud.

A memorial exhibition of photographs opened October 22, 2008, (on the occasion of what would have been his 83rd birthday) and closed November 5, 2008 at the Guggenheim Museum.