Robert Rauschenberg

’s Almanac Essay, Research Paper

Born on October 22nd 1925 in the oil-refining city of Port Arthur, Texas ne? Milton Ernest

Rauschenberg, he later renamed himself Robert after his Grandfather. Rauschenbergs father was

one of the many blue coloured workers in the oil refineries whilst his mother worked as a telephone

operator. He first studied art during his final years at high school but this was quickly cut short

when in 1943 he entered the local University of Texas to study Physics only to be expelled in his

first year due to learning difficulties, dyslexia, which was then not recognised and so from there he

entered into military service with the navy for one year working in the hospitals as he ?did not want

to kill anyone? and here his antiwar feelings only became stronger.

He did not enrol into art education again until 1947 when he joined Kansas?s art school, which took

him on a short and unmemorable study period to Paris, because he felt no use there for it?s time had

already been and gone. It was moving back to America and onto the Black Mountain College in

North Carolina where Rauschenberg began to come into his own. Studying alongside key Abstract

Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline he began to reject

the way that the purely emotional movement worked believing that colours didn?t represent

emotions but colour.

In 1951 Rauschenberg broke away on his own with his first solo show, although that same year he

did exhibit alongside 60 other New York Abstract Expressionist artists including Pollock and

Kooning and became part of the ?New York School? that was founded. But during the fifties he and

his working partner Jasper Johns had the Abstract Expressionists in outrage as Rauschenberg began

to fill the surface of his paintings with objects that included stuffed goats and chickens, coca cola

bottles and newspapers he began to bring subject matter back

into paintings and his work bridged the gap between

abstraction and representation. According to Time critic

Robert Hughes this pioneering work helped to ?set free the

attitudes that (eventually) made pop art seem culturally


Rauschenbergs Almanac includes all the beliefs that the artist was firmly about when he reached the

sixties. Experimentation; never content with one style Rauschenberg preferred to be forever forging

ahead with new mediums and techniques, ?once a certain technique or method became easy, I

would give it up and try something else,? says Rauschenberg. He was one of the first artists to

experiment with blueprint paper in the early fifties, and then he began to incorporate the everyday found

objects and daily media images from the press, he wanted to act in the gap between art and life and

found mediums that best did that for him whether it be photographs, (he often would have a camera

on him and built up an extensive library of images from his travels through life), magazine

clippings, junk, found used objects or images from history books.

The Dada movement formed during the First World War clearly affected Robert?s work; they

promoted the use of collage and assemblage, in particular artists such as Kurt Schwitters and

Hannah Hoch as well as artists of the movement such as Man Ray being the first to adopt

photographic materials for artistic purposes. Dadaists broke down the boundaries between art and

everyday life, for they were concerned with provoking the public into reacting to their activities and

Rauschenberg too ?did not want to create enduring masterpieces for an elite but to further a

perpetual process of discovery in which everyone could participate?

It was in 1962 that Rauschenberg picked up the

silk screening process and both he and Andy

Warhol explored this new technique together.

The process for Almanac would consist of him

enlarging his chosen images onto the photosensitive

silk screens, which he would then lay on top of

the canvas and force the black viscous inks through

using a squeegee. Once this would have dried

he would have painted the black, white and grey oil

paint strokes on and around the screened


Almanac?s collection of images can be related to it?s title, the literary meaning of which is; a yearly

calendar giving statistical information, such as phases of the moon, tides, anniversaries etc.

The boy?s head in the top left hand corner could represent his son, Christopher, who would have

turned twelve that year. Adjacent to that a screened photograph likely to have come from either a

newspaper or news magazine, depicts a ?Lunar Bug? that the first American to have orbited earth

that year would have used. The New York Skyline, an image often used in Rauschenbergs

silkscreen prints would have been taken from his large new studio at 809 Broadway where he had

only recently moved to. The oilrigs screen print could have been a photo he?d taken on a trip he

took that year to his childhood home of Port Arthur in Texas a place he had not been back to since

he last mistakenly visited his parents there (they had moved on, to Lafayette in Louisiana) back in

1945. The seas too could be images from his childhood hometown or alternatively they may be

representative of the turning of the tides, which are often included in an almanac. The pair of black

hands in the top right hand of the painting may be associated with the many black countries that

gained their freedom that year including Jamaica, Tobago and Uganda. At what stage during 1962

he created Almanac I do not know, however the grid that takes up almost a quarter of the painting

may be because the year was not yet over with several months left to run, alternatively each box

within the grid could represent the days of that year. The plant beside the grid may be nothing more

than one he had had in his studio that year and happened the image happened to appear amongst his

photograph collection. Further images appear amongst the brush strokes, some of which I guess to

be a stone pillar, a flower, an obscure person and a building, whether this is exactly what they are I

could not say, however it does not make those images any less important instead it draws the viewer

further into the painting forcing them to become involved in it?s discovery. Rauschenberg did not

want the size or placement of an image to determine its importance within the painting, the

differentiation and lack of order was to reflect life?s ?extremely random order that cannot be

described as accidental? and according to art critic Richard Leslie they ?seem less about some

single thing than part of the continuum of abundance, repetition, and disjunction of daily existence.?

The silk screening process gave Rauschenberg the freedom to easily alter the scale and composition

of his images on the canvas. The visible brush strokes, most likely to have been gleamed from the

Abstract Expressionists helps to complete Almanac, bringing the images together with a

complimentary contrast of light and dark, Ronald Alley says of Almanac ?associated images?are

integrated with painterly brushwork.?

Rauschenbergs choice of limiting himself to mono colours only could relate to the media he took

them from being a mono source, alternatively the painting was to be a historical source for viewers

and he did not want any image to appear superior through colour, black and white giving the

painting a timeless aspect.

Overall Almanac is an array of strong linear images; factory buildings, the New York City skyline,

the lunar bug diagram, a mathematical grid combined with the contrasting natural forms; the

seascapes, a pair of hands, a pot plant and a flower combined with the free flowing brush strokes of

paint that bring the pictures together and yet keep each one individual. The images used would have

shaped the erratic happenings of 1962 for both Rauschenberg and other Americans. Most of his

work was limited to strictly American material, material that would have been forcing itself

everyday into millions of American households, as Rauschenberg quoted they were being

?bombarded with TV sets and magazines.? Almanac is just one glimpse of the Western world

during a rapidly technologically changing period, when art forms and their acceptability were being

rethought. It is one of the many ?combines? that Rauschenburg created during his and Jasper Johns

fantastically influential period on the booming New York art world of the mid 20th Century.

Arresting images from the everyday and making a ?commentary on contemporary society using the

very images that helped to create that society?


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