Robert Rauschenberg was an artist who I had just come to begin to understand in the past year. Yesterday, Rauschenberg died at the age of 82.
His works can be quite difficult to approach. They are full of paint, encaustic, collage, found objects, taxidermy, newspaper, fabric… an endless supply of ideas and images and concepts smattered onto large, overwhelming canvases that blur the lines between all previously defined media. His paintings can be sculpture, his photographs can be paintings, I once read about him being described as a “maverick” and I think the honor is fitting.
The first hundred times I had seen his work in person I detested it. I simply could not understand what was going on, everything looked ugly, and it appeared as if it was just trash glued together (in fact, it usually was.) But as I grew as a person and an artist, I began to see the beauty and intellect that was woven in to his pieces. Reckless abandon and chance, no different from the work of artists who had constructed massive color grids in the same format, equated to beauty and clarity. Deep narratives arose and symbolism became important.
Today, I am sad that my explorations with him will now only be in retrospect. The production has ceased, the final page has been typed, and the last illustration has been added. The loss of a major influence, even one not yet fully realized, makes for a sad day for us all. There is one less artist trying to reveal the beauty in what gets thrown away, to make stories out of tragedy so we can begin to cope with losses, one less effort to weave together the fabric of human experience that we are all wrapped in.