Robert Rauschenberg, Retroactive I, 1964, oil and silkscreen ink on canvas, 84 x 60 in. (213.4 x 152.4 cm), Wadsworth Athenuem, Hartford, Connecticut, ©Robert Rauschenberg/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Robert Rauschenberg was born in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1925. Like many artists of his generation he served in the military during the 1940s and used the G.I. Bill to attend college. He studied art at Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina, where he worked under Josef Albers and met other progressive artists who greatly shaped his artistic identity, including John Cage and Merce Cunningham.
Rauschenberg was keenly interested in the iconography of American popular culture. He eschewed the emotional style of the Abstract Expressionists without losing the latter’s expressiveness by developing a style that stressed collage and used atypical materials like house paint, as well as techniques such painting with a tire dipped in ink. He expanded his collages by incorporating three-dimensional objects, which he referred to as “combines.” This groundbreaking technique contributed to the course of modern art and creative expression. The works are sometimes called Neo-Dada. Rauschenberg’s fascination with popular imagery and his anything goes aesthetic indisputably influenced Pop Art, which would mimic the look of popular culture as opposed to Rauschenberg’s more subjective renderings.
Rauschenberg used images of current events gathered from magazines and newspapers for his 1964 collage Retroactive 1 (1964). A large press photograph of John F. Kennedy speaking at a televised news conference was the source for this screen print on canvas. He juxtaposed the image of Kennedy with another photo silkscreen of a parachuting astronaut. The overlapping, and seemingly disparate composition, creates a colorful visual commentary on a media-saturated culture struggling to come to grips with the television era.
I don’t want a picture to look like something it isn’t. I want it to look like something it is. And I think a picture is more like the real world when it’s made out of the real world.
A pair of socks is no less suitable to make a painting with than wood, nails, turpentine, oil, and fabric.
Robert Rauschenberg in Susan Hapgood’s Neo-Dada, Redefining Art 1958-1962, p.18.
- Abstract Expressionism