Hailed as one of the major figures in twentieth-century contemporary art, Robert Rauschenberg is best known for his collaged multimedia works, the "Combines". His enormously inventive paintings that include everyday images and objects have broken down the barriers between painting and sculpture, all of which contributed to the "pop-art" movement of the 1960’s.
He was named Milton Rauschenberg, born in Port Arthur, Texas, on October 22, 1925. Although he considered the idea of becoming a minister, he opted to study pharmacology at the University of Texas in Austin. His studies were terminated when he was drafted in the U.S. Marines. Upon his return in 1947, he decided to trade a career in pharmacology to study art, and enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute. During this time, he did window displays, executed film sets and designed photographic studios. The aspiring artist traveled to Paris, and studied at the Académie Julian the following year. There he met his future wife, Susan Weil.
Returning to the United States a year later, Rauschenberg studied under Josef Albers at Black Mountain College, near Asheville, North Carolina. He also collaborated closely with choreographer Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage. In the same year, he moved to New York and studied at the Art Students' League until 1952.
Robert Rauschenberg celebrated his first solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1951, returning to Black Mountain College a year later. Some of his works from this period included blueprints and monochromatic white paintings and black paintings.
The next few years were spent traveling through Europe and North Africa. During his travels, Robert Rauschenberg produced a series of small collages, hanging assemblages, and small boxes filled with found elements. He exhibited in Rome and Florence. Upon his return to New York in 1953, he completed a series of black paintings using materials such as newspaper, wood and stone to create works such as ‘Automobile Tire Print’ (1953) and ‘Erased de Kooning’ (1952).
The Red Painting series evolved in 1954 and led to his breakthrough. The series was coined the ‘Combines’ because they integrated aspects of painting and sculpture together. His studio was in the same neighborhood as Jasper Johns and both men felt an immediate common bond, spending much of their time exchanging ideas while discussing works. It was during this time that Robert Rauschenberg became a pivotal figure in the emerging pop art movement.
Rauschenberg’s ‘Combines’ weaved together Abstract Expressionist brushwork with found photographs, newsprint, and objects in three-dimensional hybrids. They caught the attention of artist Leo Castelli and, beginning in 1958, he would guide Rauschenberg to his rising success. ‘Canyon’ (1959) epitomizes the artist’s combine theory.
Rauschenberg’s silkscreen paintings and lithographs were part of the retrospective organized by the Jewish Museum in New York in 1963. He was also awarded the Grand Prize for Painting at the World Print Biennale in Ljubljana. Much of the 1960s were dedicated to printmaking, performance, choreography, set design, and art-and-technology works. He experimented with the use of electronics in art and co-founded Experiments in Art and Technology to promote cooperation between artists and engineers in 1966.
In 1970, Rauschenberg took permanent residence in Captiva, Florida. A retrospective, organized by the National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C., traveled throughout the United States in 1976–78. During the 80s, he embarked on a number of collaborations with artisans and workshops abroad, which resulted in the formation of the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI) project.
In 1997, The Guggenheim Museum in New York exhibited the largest retrospective of a life’s work that displayed over four hundred pieces of art. Robert Rauschenberg is an important American artist, whose work is displayed in virtually every museum dedicated to contemporary art.