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Robert Rauschenberg, October 22, 1925 – May 12, 2008

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“You begin with the possibilities of the material.” – Robert Rauschenberg

“The artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history.” – Robert Rauschenberg

“I always have a good reason for taking something out but I never have one for putting something in. And I don’t want to, because that means that the picture is being painted predigested.” – Robert Rauschenberg

“And all of this, all these physical aspects of painting at that time excited me very much. You could do a picture in just black and white. I mean all the things, whether you’re soliciting permission or not, do give you permission.” – Robert Rauschenberg

Rauschenberg is perhaps most famous for his “Combines” of the 1950s, in which non-traditional materials and objects were employed in innovative combinations. While the Combines are both painting and sculpture, Rauschenberg has also worked with photography, printmaking, papermaking, and performance. Rauschenberg had a tendency to pick up the trash that interested him on the streets of New York City and bringing it back to his studio to use it in his works. He claimed he “wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted to use the surprise and the collectiveness and the generosity of finding surprises. And if it wasn’t a surprise at first, by the time I got through with it, it was. So the object itself was changed by its context and therefore it became a new thing.”

In 1953, Rauschenberg stunned the art world by erasing a drawing by de Kooning. In 1964 Rauschenberg was the first American artist to win the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale (Mark Tobey and James Whistler had previously won the Painting Prize). Since then he has enjoyed a rare degree of institutional support. Rauschenberg lived and worked in New York City and on Captiva Island, Florida until his death on May 12, 2008, from heart failure.

Erased de Kooning Video:

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