Tag Archives: rauschenberg

Parallel Project – Remembering Passchendaele

It is the centenary of the battle at Passchendaele, where approximately half a million men, French, British and German, died. Remembrance of those gone lies at the heart of my parallel project; their presence in our memory, their absence from our lives.

During the recent book making course, the tutor was encouraging us to write in our books (the emphasis of the course was literary, rather than artistic), and in particular, suggested that the origami book design with its three internal pages, was especially suited to a Haiku. This Japanese poem has three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively. I made a very small origami book out of grey marbled Japanese paper, which I think brings to mind clouds or swirling mist. I am always reluctant to use handwriting, since my writing is rubbish and, being dyslexic, I don’t always write the character which I intend. P’s become b’s etc. Here is my poor effort:

The bad poetry and handwriting aside, I like this delicate, painted paper combined with text, or, possibly image and will consider it as a component of an artists’s book.

I have been reviewing my work throughout the course and thinking about what worked well. One of the works I selected was a transfer print, after Rauschenberg, which considered family memories.

Since I made this work, I have been collecting suitable images from newspapers which I might use in another. These range from high-heeled shoes and donuts (possibly for use in a modern ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’?) to historical, domestic or political images. One is this famous photograph from WW1 taken in the aftermath of Passchendaele.

I have been exploring the effects produced by acryl gouache, and want to introduce the ghosts of these soldiers into a landscape of forms suggested by gouache and water. The runs and blooms of the paint might be eloquent of the mire and desolation of Flanders.

A2, acryl gouache on 160gm cartridge

I dropped gouache of various dilutions into water washes suggested by the puddles and shattered trees of the photograph. This has resulted in a rather more representational image than I expected. The foreground is watery and chaotic, which is appropriate, but I wish I had let less say more. Slanting the paper up and down, I encouraged runs in both directions for the trees and I think that this has worked well for the starkness of the landscape.

Using the computer, I tried out various positions of the photo with in the drawing.

Having photographed the one image and scanned the other, I have a scaling problem here. The photo is actually smaller relative to the drawing than this composite. The photo in the newspaper is about A5 and the transfer method with solvent means that I cannot scale it. Also, the process only works with high contrast images which this is not. The photograph will have to be positioned in a lighter area of the drawing.

I thought that the transfer would be small and pale but this is disappointing. I don’t mind the soldiers being pale and ghostly but they are difficult to read in such a noisy  and contrasty background. I used gesso to make the area around the soldiers paler. The gesso looked flat and as though it was floating above the surface so, drawing on the lessons of the recent Experimental Drawing workshop, I distressed the surface with a scalpel. This has had the effect of adding to the war-torn nature of the scene. The figures stand out better but perhaps still look too small in the landscape.

If you crop into the drawing, the figures look better and the combination of transfer and paper surface becomes more interesting.

I could just select this portion, but I have decided to condense the drawing by tearing it apart and reassembling it; development by destruction. In reassembling it, I have tried to fragment the landscape. I have tried to capture that feeling of visiting a place after many years. I find that my memories are inaccurate and have distorted the landscape, omitting some parts, and making some features much more prominent than reality.

The revised shapes have the effect of drawing the eye to the ghostly soldiers.

Enlargement

This isn’t exactly what I set out to achieve; it has developed through the process. The result is a genuine, heartfelt response to the ordeal suffered by so many one hundred years ago, gone but not forgotten.

American Dream

The current American Dream exhibition at the British Museum is best exhibition of fine art printmaking I have ever seen. I have been to other exhibitions there, such as Picasso’s Vollard Suite  and the Japanese Shunga exhibition, both of which were really enjoyable and informative, but nothing matches the sweep of this exhibition. It looks at recent (since Pop art) and contemporary printmaking in America, with particular focus on how the artists are reflecting their contemporary culture. As you might expect, there are significant works by Rauschenberg and Warhol, but the scope of the works goes far beyond the obvious.

Some of the artists featured just happened to have made some prints and, because they are well known, their prints are included here, but I don’t think the prints inform their oeuvre or that they really exploited the unique possibilities of printmaking. Lichtenstein, for instance, does his usual stuff and it is indistinguishable from his paintings (though, of course, editioned). They could be giclee photographic prints. Other artists really pushed their work through the medium. For instance, Oldenberg’s etchings clearly relate to his more famous works but are uniquely themselves and Jasper John’s lithographs exploit the way oil based medium lies on the stone and can then be manipulated.

Rauschenberg was supremly inventive with printmaking, combining photographic imagery, lithography and screenprinting, all in the same monumental work. His life sized self-portrait ‘Booster’ (1967) is an object lesson in pushing an experimental approach and combining everything learnt into something new.

Jim Dine exploited the opportunities of printmaking by making a plate for the print ‘Five Paintbrushes’ (1972) and then developing the plate through subsequent ‘states’ to create a sequence of prints. The third state, fourth state and sixth state show how the plate was gradually enriched.

Two other stand-out works were Chuck Close’s colossal mezzotint ‘Keith’ (1972) both for its heroic endeavor (mezzotint is a very painstaking process, and most are, therefore, very small) and for the way he embraced the record of the process. Repeated trial printing reduced the tone around the mouth and exposed the grid system he used, and he chose to retain, rather than fight, this. The other work was Frank Stella’s ‘Cone’ (1987), a very large screenprint or a black shape, almost completely filling the canvas, with gently curved edges echoing his sculptures. The black shape is full of dense, raised, glutinous texture created by forcing oil paint stick through a silk screen; more inventiveness via the printmaking process.

In addition to the artists you would expect to be represented, there where many I was interested to be introduced to such as Kara Walker, Kiki Smith and the exquisite woodcuts of Veja Celmins. There were others whose work I love and was delighted to find represented here such as Louise Bourgeois and Julie Mehretu. Women are increasing represented in the exhibition as the time line progresses.

If, of the hundred’s of wonderful prints, I could take one home it might be Eric Fischl’s ‘Year of the Drowned Dog’ (1985). This series of etchings is full of the glittery light of the west coast and the sparkling colours familiar from a Hockney painting. There is mystery in the possible narrative around the body of the dog and the groups of people. From a technical point of view, the combination of techniques (aquatint, soft ground etching, scrapping and drypoint) to achieve the rich tones and then the outstanding inking make this a printmaking tour de force. The  six prints  can be combined in different ways to vary the narrative and I would never get bored of rearranging and enjoying this work.

This is undoubtedly the best exhibition of prints I have ever seen, and I think it may well be the best I will ever see.

 

Parallel Project – Fractured Memories

Whilst talking to my sister about what family photos might be available as references, I realise that we have completely different memories of aspects of our childhood. This is inevitable since different people, events and places have a different impact depending on your age at the time, your emotions and experiences.

This thought came at the time when I have been playing around with photographic images, both personal and appropriated. I have been experimenting with methods of transferring images for inclusion in works on paper. Ideally, I want to go beyond collage and actually integrate the image with the surface, avoiding difficult edges, changes in texture and thickness etc.

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Transfer experiments and notes

One method uses acrylic medium, painted over a printed image. The medium is applied in several layers, allowed to fully dry and then the paper is soaked and rubbed off the back, leaving ink embedded in an acrylic ‘skin’. This is very effective at transferring a detailed image but the surface is, inevitably, plastic and shiny, even using matt medium. The skin can be cut or, better, torn and adhered to the support with pva or more medium.

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‘Skin’ applied and drawn into

I was excited to find an intriguing alternative during the study visit to the Rauschenberg exhibition recently. For his series illustrating Dante’s Inferno, he used an offset method, soaking an image in solvent and drawing over the back with an empty ballpoint to transfer the image. This transfers the ink directly to the support and allows it to be completely integrated with other drawing techniques. With some experimentation, I found the process worked well with newspaper or magazine illustrations. The result looks as though it has been drawn, as indeed, in a way, it has.

lips-transfer-1-of-1

I had been thinking about the fractured memories and how to represent this using photographs. In my sketchbook, I have played with a large scale inkjet photograph of my father’s eyes, transferred to a skin and torn into pieces.

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A5

I wanted to put together these ideas using an appropriated family photograph and solvent offset. I was lucky enough to find a large period black and white photo of a family group in a newspaper article which seemed perfect for the subject. The girl in the middle is several years older than the babies and will have entirely different memories of this occasion and of her parents at that period of their lives.

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30cm x 30cm

The offset gives a slightly ghostly image, as not all of the ink is transferred. I used this to my advantage by transferring the older child’s face twice in order to add to the sense of dislocation. The marks made by the pen give the effect of drawing but also of personal interpretation. The marks going in different directions also indicate a lack of one absolute truth.

fractured-1-of-1

This method of transfer allows me to intervene in the result in addition to getting rid of the issues of edges or surface changes. It isn’t just a photograph, it is a specific interpretation of the image. It has dream-like quality perfectly suited to exploring the subject of memory.

I hope to make a series of works around this theme and plan further experiments using family images if I can find a way of replicating them, scaling etc which will transfer. I suspect this means using a commercial laser copier or printer. Experiments using images from a home laser printer were not successful.

Study Visit – Robert Rauschenberg

Raushenberg’s response to the post-war gloom and the self-absorption of the abstract expressionists who dominated American art in the early 1950s, was to revel in the stuff of real, contemporary life. This exhibition, a chronological survey,  shows him acquiring materials, techniques and ideas like a squirrel, hording them up and rearranging them in sculptures and works which defy common labels.

He pushed his interest in photography into painting via blueprint paper exposures. He combined and then recombined found objects and paint. The famous Angora goat migrated from one arrangement to another, over fours years, before settling permanently into ‘Monogram’ in 1959 (Craft,2013). Even his paintings, perhaps his most conventional works, explored the use of fabric, applied objects, mirror, newsprint, photographs, mould, mud, in fact pretty much anything that caught his eye and was to hand.’Painting’ seems far too small a term, not least because some were big, really big.

Central to Rauschenberg’s work was the found image, reflecting the moment in popular culture. Images of J F Kennedy and astronauts capture the essence of the era and its optimism, shaking off the post-war despondency. Printmaking, especially screen printing allowed him to scale up these images, juxtaposition them with paint and other iconic images of American life.

The transfer of found images found its most poignant expression in his illustrations for Dante’s Inferno, begun in 1958 (Robert Rauschenberg Foundation). These 34 drawings are necessarily small because he used a method of image transfer which did not allow scaling up. He soaked the images in turpentine or lighter fluid and offset their ink by laying them on the support and hatching over them with an empty ball point pen (Craft). This produced a ghostly, painterly image which fitted the subject well and allowed pencil and paint additions.

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My experiment, offset image from colour supplement using white spirit

He continued to push printmaking in different directions, including using lithography, producing ‘Booster’ 1967, at the time, the biggest hand-pulled lithograph ever printed (Craft) and reflecting his continuing fascination with scientific developments and the space race. When he moved to Florida in 1970, the materials readily available changed, but, undeterred he turned to using cardboard boxes as his medium, but printmaking and image acquisition was never far away and both kept reemerging in his later work.

His work is a celebration of experimentation, invention, optimism and wit, and his influence still reverberates in contemporary art.

 

References
Craft, C. (2013) Robert Rauschenberg. London: Phaidon Press.
Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (2015) Dante drawing (1958–60). Available at:
http://www.rauschenbergfoundation.org/art/series/dante-drawing (Accessed: 1 January 2017).

3.4 Contextual Focus – Erased De Kooning

In 1953, Rauschenberg decided to challenge what could be construed as Art, just as Dumas had before him. He had begun this process in 1951 by producing pure white paintings from which he had eliminated any sense of brushwork by using house paint applied with rollers (Craft, 2013). Wanting to push his White paintings into drawing, he conceived the idea of taking a drawing, a work of art, and destroying it by erasure, thereby leaving its trace but not the ‘art’ content. This would not only question or destroy ideas of what art was but also destroy a physical piece of art. He tried using his own drawings but felt that they lacked sufficient significance. He fearfully approached de Kooning, one of the foremost American artists of the time, and requested a drawing to delete, ‘I bought a bottle of Jack Daniels…..praying….that he wouldn’t be home’ (svsugvcarter, 2007). Accounts differ as to whether de Kooning was reluctant or intrigued by the proposal, possibly both.

Rauschenberg remembers de Kooning saying, ‘I want it to be something I’ll miss…..something really difficult to erase’. He selected a drawing in charcoal, oil paint, pencil and crayon, and it took Rauschenberg a month to erase it.  He comments in this interview that people thought it a gesture, a protest against abstract expressionism or vandalism but when asked what it represented for him, he said ‘its poetry’.

The Erased de Kooning as a physical artefact is not a work of art, but the memory of a work of art. The second work of art here is the idea and its execution. In this respect, Rauschenberg was a forerunner of the Conceptual Art movement which gained momentum in the early 1960s. Sol LeWitt ‘In conceptual art the idea or the concept is the most important aspect of the work…it means that all planning and decisions are made before hand and the execution is a perfunctory affair…It is the object of the artist to make his work mentally interesting to the spectator’ (Harrison, Wood, and Gaiger, 2002). Except that Rauschenberg did not want the execution to be perfunctory; he wanted it to be difficult, but, like the White paintings, not to display the hand of the artist. Had he been working 10 years later, he probably would have recorded this as a piece of performance art. He created a nearly blank piece of paper on which the spectator can project their own interpretation and speculations. It is this creation of an arena for discussion and speculation which has kept the Erased de Kooning fresh and relevant for 60 years.

Erasing a work by an important artist was a genuinely creative and original idea. In his ‘Sentence on Conceptual Art’, Sol LeWitt usefully said, of this creative process:

‘1 Conceptual Artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.

2 Rational judgements repeat rational judgements.

3 Illogical judgements lead to new experience.

4 Formal Art is essentially rational.

5 Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.’ (Harrison, Wood, and Gaiger).

Erasing a de Kooning was irrational and, once conceived, followed through with commitment, leading to a new and enduring experience.

References

Craft, C. (2013) Rauschenberg London: Phaidon Press.

Harrison, C., Wood, P. and Gaiger, J. (eds.) (2002) Art in theory 1900-2000: An anthology of changing ideas. 2nd edn. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
svsugvcarter (2007) Robert Rauschenberg – erased de Kooning. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpCWh3IFtDQ (Accessed: 18 December 2016).

Bibliography

Fox, M. (2015) What is the artistic significance of Robert Rauschenberg’s erased de Kooning? Available at: https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-artistic-significance-of-Robert-Rauschenbergs-Erased-de-Kooning (Accessed: 5 December 2016).
Harrison, C., Wood, P. and Gaiger, J. (eds.) (2002) Art in theory 1900-2000: An anthology of changing ideas. 2nd edn. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
Katz, V. (2006) A genteel iconoclasm. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/genteel-iconoclasm (Accessed: 5 December 2016).
Robert Rauschenberg, erased de Kooning drawing, 1953 (2016) Available at: https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/98.298#ownership-artwork (Accessed: 5 December 2016).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2010) Robert Rauschenberg on ‘erased de Kooning’. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGRNQER16Do (Accessed: 18 December 2016).
svsugvcarter (2007) Robert Rauschenberg – erased de Kooning. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpCWh3IFtDQ (Accessed: 18 December 2016).