The artist at his home and studio in Captiva Island, Fla. in 2005.
Robert Rauschenberg, the irrepressibly prolific American artist who time and again reshaped art in the 20th century, died Monday night. He was 82.
Mr. Rauschenberg’s work gave new meaning to sculpture. A painter, photographer, printmaker, choreographer, onstage performer, set designer and, in later years, a composer, Mr. Rauschenberg defied the traditional idea that an artist stick to one medium or style. He pushed, prodded and sometimes substantially reconceived various mediums in which he worked.
Building on the legacies of Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters and Joseph Cornell, he helped to obscure the lines between painting and sculpture, painting and photography, photography and printmaking, sculpture and photography, sculpture and dance, sculpture and technology, technology and performance art — not to mention between art and life.
Ashley Chen, with other Merce Cunningham dancers, performing against a backdrop by Robert Rauschenberg. Mr. Rauschenberg frequently alluded to cars and spaceships, even incorporating real tires and bicycles, into his art.
This partly reflected his own restless, peripatetic imagination. The idea of movement was logically extended when he took up dance and performance.
There was a darkness to many of his works, notwithstanding their irreverence. ‘Bed’ was gothic. The all-black paintings were solemn and shuttered. The red paintings looked charred, with strips of fabric, akin to bandages, from which paint dripped, like blood.
Robert Rauschenberg was born on Oct. 22, 1925, in Port Arthur, Tex., a small refinery town where ‘it was very easy to grow up without ever seeing a painting,’ he said. His grandfather, a doctor, had settled in Texas and married a full-blooded Cherokee. His father worked for a local utility company. The family lived so modestly that his mother used to make him shirts out of scraps of fabric.
For his high school graduation present, Mr. Rauschenberg wanted a ready-made shirt, his first. A decade or so later he made history with his own assemblages of scraps and ready-mades: sculptures and music boxes made of packing crates, rocks and rope; and paintings like ‘Yoicks’ sewn from fabric strips.
‘I usually work in a direction until I know how to do it, then I stop,’ he said in an interview on Captiva in 2000. ‘At the time that I am bored or understand — I use those words interchangeably — another appetite has formed. A lot of people try to think up ideas. I’m not one. I’d rather accept the irresistible possibilities of what I can’t ignore.’
He added, “Anything you do will be an abuse of somebody else’s aesthetics. I think you’re born an artist or not. I couldn’t have learned it, and I hope I never do because knowing more only encourages your limitations.” Via N.Y. Times