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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Weekly Comic Strip: #19

for Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg died last week and I didn't find out about it until yesterday. I guess I've been living under a rock lately or the art world has stopped sending me transmissions.

I can't say that Rauschenberg's death was a shock or tragedy to me personally. I never met him. But his work and his life have been very important to me. So, in case you aren't as familiar with his work, I thought I'd give an explanation for this weeks comic strip poem.

Click the link to

Though there's no obvious trace of his influence in my art today, Rauschenberg was one of the biggest influences on me as a young art student. I used to try to paint like him. Him and Cy Twombly. They were my heroes of art back when I was a painting student at the University of Tulsa making large abstract and collage paintings. Back in '97, when I was just finishing up my undergrad degree and getting ready for grad school, the Guggenheim had a huge retrospective of his work in NYC and I had to fly up there to see it. A few months later I took a roadtrip with a few friends down to Houston, TX, to see the show again. I spent most of that year painting every day in preparation for entering the MFA program at the San Francisco Art Institute. During that time I was inspired by his "anything can be art" attitude. At the end of the summer before moving to California, I had a solo show at a small gallery (that was actually a warehouse attached to a friend's apartment) in Tulsa. I called that show "I Will Destroy You," which soon became my epithet. Though my art was a bit derivative at the time, that was one of the most productive and fun periods of my artistic life because I was trying to make art the way Rauschenberg did- with complete freedom and enough balls to think you could do anything. But then I went to art school to get my MFA and had all of that spirit stomped out of me. Years later I feel like I'm still trying to get back that feeling. Pouring through all of my books about Rauschenberg this week reminds me of that feeling and makes me long for it even more.

Part of the reason I began my comic strip poems was to give me a space to do anything I want. I don't worry about any preconceived ideas about my art. I don't approach them with any worries of what the viewer might think or expect. I don't restrict myself to draw in any certain way. It's my time to explore whatever ideas I have about art, comics or whatever. Doing these strips is restoring that Rauschenberg feeling that I've been trying to find for so long.

This strip is a drawing after Rauschenberg's "Automobile Tire Print" from 1953 (above is photo of a section of the piece). His piece consisted of 20 pieces of paper which he glued together and then asked his friend John Cage to drive his car over with a paint-soaked wheel. To me it's a perfect embodiment of Rauschenberg's spirit that anything and everything could and should be art. Rauschenberg was also a joker and parodist and was always poking fun at his contemporaries. This piece was a subtle jab at one of his favorite painters, Barnett Newman. Newman's abstract paintings consisted of thin lines of contrasting color that were meant to evoke spiritual contemplation through minimalist expression. Rauschenberg pokes fun at Newman's work, but with a tongue in the cheek and a friendly nod to his contemporary.

Rauschenberg often paid homage to his fellow artists through parody by tearing down the conceptions of their art. When the abstract expressionists were taking painting beyond it's known limits, Rauschenberg took it even further when he erased a de Kooning drawing. He continued to toy with his ab-ex friends when he created Factum 1 and Factum 2, a performance in which he created two identical abstract paintings.

So, when trying to think of a way to pay homage to one of my heroes, I decided to give him a taste of his own medicine. I decided to recreate his tire track by drawing it by hand with a brush and ink on paper without the use of a tire or a car.

The words in this strip are also Rauschenberg's. In an interview about his process, he said:

"I don't think any honest artist sets out to make art. You Love art. You Live art. You are art. You do art. But you're just doing something. You're doing what no one can stop you from doing."

Words that any artist should live by.

R.I.P. Robert Rauschenberg.


zack soto said...

Nice. I also caught that show in Houston. It was inspirational. (do you remember the small show of Wm. Blake drawings they had at the same time? also pretty great)

A day of soaking up the Rauchenberg retrospective, followed by some quiet time in the Rothko Chapel. good stuff.

Gary said...

Great work. Rauschenberg was one of my many inspriations too. It doesn't have to be evident in your work, it can in be the sharing of an ethos or just a way of making art.

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