Process, object, environment and artist intertwine in Robert Rauschenberg's work. He embodies most of the ideas of this century's modern art, yet his powerful, idiosyncratic works are like those of no other artist.
Born Milton Rauschenberg in Texas in 1925, he received a sound art education. He attended Kansas City Art Institute in 1947, and then the renowned Academie Julien in Paris in 1948.
He returned to the United States to attend Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1949. There he studied under abstract painter Josef Albers, one of the emigres who, seeking refuge in the United States from Europe's devastation, had galvanized American art. There, too, he formed professional relationships with avant-garde composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham.
Rauschenberg continued on to New York City, where he studied at the Art Students League until 1952. From then until 1953, he traveled in Northern Africa and Italy.
His first works included collage, and he was involved in the production of perhaps the first impromptu theatrical "happening," a performance of John Cage's Theater Piece #1 (1952). His "combine paintings" of the 1950s combined, at first, paint and objects from his own past, but later included more "found" materials like photographs that had no personal connection with the artist. He turned to planning and costuming stage performances, particula4y dance, in the 1960s, and in the 1970s he produced constructions of fragile and ephemeral materials.
From the beginning, Rauschenberg's work contained nontraditional materials, was exhibited in a nontraditional setting, and refused categorization. Although he rejected the serious, self-important, personal emotionality of the abstract expressionist painters, his brushwork is expressive and emotive. His incorporation of mundane objects-such as bed linens, license plates, or tires-into his assemblages heavily influenced the growth of pop art and neo-dadaism in the 1960s, but the effect is neither banal and cynical like pop, nor deliberately chaotic and negative like dada.
Unlike his contemporaries Larry Rivers and Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg's restless inventiveness makes his works difficult to categorize. He has always been willing to explore new possibilities, including combining paintings with music or performance, and using blue-prints, electronics, silkscreen and-most recently-ephemeral materials such as cardboard in his paintings.
Rauschenberg 's work is contradictory. He sees
the artist as a participant or reporter rather than a creator,
but the stamp of his style and personality is evident in each
of his paintings. Though his is an art of the concept, the idea,
there is evident enjoyment in his engagement with the medium
of expression and the material world. Whatever the judgment
of later generations, Robert Rauschenberg is regarded as a tremendously
influential force in twentieth-century art.