Robert Rauschenberg 'Combined' Art and Life

Since I missed writing about artist Robert Raushenberg's passing in this blog, (1925-2008) I thought I would post an an essay I wrote after seeing him for the last time in Los Angeles.

Raushenberg maintained that he worked “in the gap between life and art.” Characterized as a “neo-dadaist” his work challenged the difference between traditional art objects and the objects of the everyday world (including everything from the “junk” one might find on the streets to snapshot photographs), creating what became known as “combines” and “assemblages.” By some accounts he sought to make “sense out of senselessness. He will be sorely missed.

I was lucky enough to visit with him on four different occasions...

"Robert Rauschenberg: In Raw Form"
Date First Published: 2008-03-24 - Time: 15:17:51

I have been fortunate enough to meet
Mr. Robert Rauschenberg on several occasions....

On Sunday, May 21st at a little after 3 pm on a drizzly cloudy day, Bob was wheeled out in a wheelchair onto the stage (he recently had a stroke and doesn't have the use of his right hand and can't hear out of his left ear very well) at the sold out Silver Auditorium at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles. He was positioned between Paul Schimmel, Curator at MOCA, Los Angeles and Calvin Thompkins,
author of the Rauschenberg biography "Off The Wall."

He was introduced by Paul as the "Father of Post Modernism." hmmm. that sounds like a pretty big title. Bob kinda of looked up to the ceiling hearing that and looked thoughtful. After Paul said Bob needed no introduction he proceeded to give a VERY long introduction. I started to wonder if Bob was able to speak or not! Finally....Bob talked....

He spoke a lot about his work with Merce Cunnigham, the avant-garde dancer. They traveled together on a tour for about 3 years performing these very unusual performances. It was at that time he was working on the "Dante" transfer drawings (I assume because they were on the road) But he created a lot of his most important work during this time for the theater. Work that must be able to collapse down and fit into the back of a Volkswagon bus and travel to the next show. I thought it was very interesting that he created art with whatever he could while on the raod. That is when he came up with so many interesting ideas like the turtles with the flash lights attached to their backs. One is still alive and holding court in Bob's New York City studio. He mentioned at one point, "I'm the best non-dancer in the world." A side note,... he didn't talk much about Jasper John (his former companion) . He rarely does. Another interesting thing... his son Chris (I think that is his name) from his marriage to Susan was there. (Bob was still in the closet back then, I suppose.)

He spoke about the creation process. This is one of my favorite things about Bob.... He said the IMMEDIACY of the PROCESS was very important to him. He said it comes down to "what you had for breakfast that day, what you got in the mail that day." How important. After some thought, I remember a documentary on John Lennon, another genius in his own time, who spoke of the same concept. A guy had snuck onto this Beatle's property and was discovered by the groundskeeper. When confronted by Lennon, he said all he wanted to do was meet the Beatle and tell him that they thought about things exactly the same. He mentioned lyrics to some of his songs and said John was speaking to 'him.' John said he was 'full-of-it'. He said that his songs were about the immediacy of what he was experiencing that day he wrote any given song. He said it depends on so many things. What he had for breakfast, who he talked to on the phone, etc. the same idea of IMMEDIACY.

Back to Bob,... he was asked about why he seemed to not of created art for 3 years in the 50's. . He corrected them by saying that he was working the whole time. Just not showing his work. At this time, he still had not sold ANYTHING! He said "sometimes you have to drop out to stand forward." I liked that. Yeah. I can relate. I personally work ALL OF THE TIME, but I don't always go public with it either. hmmm. Good thoughts to ponder.

Then he was asked about why he chose the color RED for one of his series back then..... now here was a time that I thought to myself,... okay,... I've heard him answer this question before, how lucid is he at 80 years old...?... Well, after a long uncomfortable pause, as I am pressing my toes through the soles of my newly bought Basquiat shoes... [another blog]... he answered it correctly.... and brilliantly. He said, "I chose the color RED because it was the most difficult color to use. I wanted to challenge myself." That 'challenging thing' was probably from his influence of his adversarial (and beloved) teacher, Joseph Albers of Black Mountain College.

He also told a funny story about the infamous goat in the piece named 'Monogram' This is the piece that is a canvas on the floor with a goat standing on it. He told of passing by this office supply store and saw this goat in the window. He thought, hmmm, I am going to go inside and ask why the goat was in the window. Well, the owner said, you know, I have been in the office supply business a long time. I get so many big boxes that come though here every month that I have gotten pretty good at guessing what is in the box without even opening it. Well,.... pretty good that is!. There stood this scraggly goat with matted hair. Not so good a guessing that day, I suppose! Bob asked the fellow, how much would he sell the goat for? The man promptly said I wouldn't sell it, but if he did, it would be for 30 dollars! Bob only had 15 dollars on him, which was his entire months rent. (1952 or so), so he said he would be back as soon as he could, with the rest of the money. Well, it took him a while to get the rest of the money together. When he did, he went back to 52 Street, (I think he said) and found that the guy had gone out of business. So he got the goat for 15 bucks. Paul laughed and said that the guy from that store owns half of 'Monogram' (now worth millions, I'm sure). Bob, went, hmmmm. He probably won't be telling that story again! He said he painted the canvas that the goat stands on, on the ground. He said he painted it to be a garden for the goat. I can't help but think of Picasso's famous sculpture of a goat that he took to each house he moved to. That goat stood guard outside of each home in the South of France. Not so much with Bob's goat though.... His goat, after several bottles of HUMAN shampoo (because, where do you find good goat shampoo) to clear up the matted fur (this is a long haired goat), Add to that the goat had paint globbed onto the it's snout. People were very offended at that and the rubber tire around the belly of the goat. But that is what made it great.

A few other quotes of the day....

"If it doesn't FRIGHTEN or CHALLENGE me, I move on"

"All I had was me, and I wanted to make something"

"I came out of poverty, doesn't everything (good)?

"Naming my pieces is sometimes the best part"
(He really loves naming his pieces, I thought that was interesting.)

"It's another ADVENTURE"

BTW- He was born in Port Arthur, Texas, and lived there until he was 17.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angels, CA.

Go see it if you can!
ps - he was actually at the members opening the night before as well. Such a trooper. He so loves to enjoy life and have a good time. God Bless Him. He has made an enormous contribution to the art world.

And so it goes. I suppose...

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