Born on October 22nd 1925 in the oil-refining city of Port Arthur, Texas neÃ¨ Milton Ernest Rauschenberg, he later renamed himself Robert after his Grandfather. Rauschenbergs father was one of the many blue coloured workers in the oil refineries whilst his mother worked as a telephone operator.
He first studied art during his final years at high school but this was quickly cut short when in 1943 he entered the local University of Texas to study Physics only to be expelled in his first year due to learning difficulties, dyslexia, which was then not recognised and so from there he entered into military service with the navy for one year working in the hospitals as he “did not want to kill anyone” and here his antiwar feelings only became stronger.Order now
He did not enrol into art education again until 1947 when he joined Kansas’s art school, which took him on a short and unmemorable study period to Paris, because he felt no use there for it’s time had already been and gone. It was moving back to America and onto the Black Mountain College in North Carolina where Rauschenberg began to come into his own. Studying alongside key Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline he began to reject the way that the purely emotional movement worked believing that colours didn’t represent emotions but colour.
In 1951 Rauschenberg broke away on his own with his first solo show, although that same year he did exhibit alongside 60 other New York Abstract Expressionist artists including Pollock and Kooning and became part of the ‘New York School’ that was founded. But during the fifties he and his working partner Jasper Johns had the Abstract Expressionists in outrage as Rauschenberg began to fill the surface of his paintings with objects that included stuffed goats and chickens, coca cola bottles and newspapers he began to bring subject matter back into paintings and his work bridged the gap between abstraction and representation.
According to Time critic Robert Hughes this pioneering work helped to “set free the attitudes that eventually made pop art seem culturally acceptable” Rauschenbergs Almanac includes all the beliefs that the artist was firmly about when he reached the sixties. Experimentation; never content with one style Rauschenberg preferred to be forever forging ahead with new mediums and techniques, “once a certain technique or method became easy, I would give it up and try something else,” says Rauschenberg.
He was one of the first artists to experiment with blueprint paper in the early fifties, and then he began to incorporate the everyday found objects and daily media images from the press, he wanted to act in the gap between art and life and found mediums that best did that for him whether it be photographs, he often would have a camera on him and built up an extensive library of images from his travels through life, magazine clippings, junk, found used objects or images from history books.
The Dada movement formed during the First World War clearly affected Robert’s work; they promoted the use of collage and assemblage, in particular artists such as Kurt Schwitters and Hannah Hoch as well as artists of the movement such as Man Ray being the first to adopt photographic materials for artistic purposes.
Dadaists broke down the boundaries between art and everyday life, for they were concerned with provoking the public into reacting to their activities and Rauschenberg too “did not want to create enduring masterpieces for an elite but to further a perpetual process of discovery in which everyone could participate” It was in 1962 that Rauschenberg picked up the silk screening process and both he and Andy Warhol explored this new technique together.
The process for Almanac would consist of him enlarging his chosen images onto the photosensitive silk screens, which he would then lay on top of the canvas and force the black viscous inks through using a squeegee. Once this would have dried he would have painted the black, white and grey oil paint strokes on and around the screened images. Almanac’s collection of images can be related to it’s title, the literary meaning of which is; a yearly calendar giving statistical information, such as phases of the moon, tides, anniversaries etc.
The boy’s head in the top left hand corner could represent his son, Christopher, who would have turned twelve that year. Adjacent to that a screened photograph likely to have come from either a newspaper or news magazine, depicts a ‘Lunar Bug’ that the first American to have orbited earth that year would have used. The New York Skyline, an image often used in Rauschenbergs silkscreen prints would have been taken from his large new studio at 809 Broadway where he had only recently moved to.
The oilrigs screen print could have been a photo he’d taken on a trip he took that year to his childhood home of Port Arthur in Texas a place he had not been back to since he last mistakenly visited his parents there they had moved on, to Lafayette in Louisiana back in 1945. The seas too could be images from his childhood hometown or alternatively they may be representative of the turning of the tides, which are often included in an almanac.
The pair of black hands in the top right hand of the painting may be associated with the many black countries that gained their freedom that year including Jamaica, Tobago and Uganda. At what stage during 1962 he created Almanac I do not know, however the grid that takes up almost a quarter of the painting may be because the year was not yet over with several months left to run, alternatively each box within the grid could represent the days of that year.
The plant beside the grid may be nothing more than one he had had in his studio that year and happened the image happened to appear amongst his photograph collection. Further images appear amongst the brush strokes, some of which I guess to be a stone pillar, a flower, an obscure person and a building, whether this is exactly what they are I could not say, however it does not make those images any less important instead it draws the viewer further into the painting forcing them to become involved in it’s discovery.
Rauschenberg did not want the size or placement of an image to determine its importance within the painting, the differentiation and lack of order was to reflect life’s “extremely random order that cannot be described as accidental” and according to art critic Richard Leslie they “seem less about some single thing than part of the continuum of abundance, repetition, and disjunction of daily existence. ” The silk screening process gave Rauschenberg the freedom to easily alter the scale and composition of his images on the canvas.
The visible brush strokes, most likely to have been gleamed from the Abstract Expressionists helps to complete Almanac, bringing the images together with a complimentary contrast of light and dark, Ronald Alley says of Almanac “associated imagesâ€¦are integrated with painterly brushwork. ” Rauschenbergs choice of limiting himself to mono colours only could relate to the media he took them from being a mono source, alternatively the painting was to be a historical source for viewers and he did not want any image to appear superior through colour, black and white giving the painting a timeless aspect.
Overall Almanac is an array of strong linear images; factory buildings, the New York City skyline, the lunar bug diagram, a mathematical grid combined with the contrasting natural forms; the seascapes, a pair of hands, a pot plant and a flower combined with the free flowing brush strokes of paint that bring the pictures together and yet keep each one individual. The images used would have shaped the erratic happenings of 1962 for both Rauschenberg and other Americans.
Most of his work was limited to strictly American material, material that would have been forcing itself everyday into millions of American households, as Rauschenberg quoted they were being “bombarded with TV sets and magazines. ” Almanac is just one glimpse of the Western world during a rapidly technologically changing period, when art forms and their acceptability were being rethought.
It is one of the many ‘combines’ that Rauschenburg created during his and Jasper Johns fantastically influential period on the booming New York art world of the mid 20th Century. Arresting images from the everyday and making a “commentary on contemporary society using the very images that helped to create that society”