ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG, Bryce Baby, 1968, solvent transfer, oil and pencil on paper, 57 × 75 cm. Copyright Robert Rauschenberg Foundation-Licensed by
VAGA, New York. Courtesy De Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong. 

Robert Rauschenberg

De Sarthe Gallery
Hong Kong USA

Robert Rauschenberg’s approach to artmaking went against the grain of postwar America. The artist first caught attention for his rejection of abstract expressionism, a movement in New York during the 1940s and 1950s popularized by figures such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and for his use of unconventional materials. Rauschenberg once stated, “I think a picture is more like the real world when it’s made out of the real world.” Blending together art and everyday life, he developed his signature “Combines” series that brought together found objects, sourced from his neighborhood in New York, with collage and painting. This articulation of ordinary American life paved the way for the Pop Art movement in the United States.  

Currently on view in Hong Kong at De Sarthe Gallery are six works by Rauschenberg, which he created later in his career, from 1968 to 2005. During this time, the artist transitioned from his experimental “Combines” to transfer drawings and silk printing, but still incorporated imagery from American popular culture into his works.

An example of his transfer drawing technique can be seen in Bryce Baby (1968), where he appropriated text and images from photographs, newspapers and comic strips. This minimalistic composition features heavy paint-strokes, a soft beige palette and randomly placed letters, with the words “Big” written backwards. Such details give Bryce Baby a raw, organic feel, and the piece’s mismatched aesthetic unites it with other works in the show.

Along with the unfinished quality of his work, Rauschenberg also liked to challenge his viewers to encounter the unknown. During 2000 to 2002, Rauschenberg completed his series “Short Stories,” in which each piece of work is named with page and paragraph numbers as though part of a story. Here, Rauschenberg invites the audience to create their own narrative around a set of images. Displayed at De Sarthe is a selection from this series called Page 10, Paragraph 3 (2001). Appearing like a scrapbook, the work features disconnected imagery: an American flag displayed on a storefront window; a pavement rife with overgrowth; road signs against a white-bricked house; and a small dog peering back over his shoulder. The lack of order in Rauschenberg’s work allows the viewers to have an open interpretation of his images; the artist himself had intended for his audience to think freely of the possibilities that his images offer. In his artist statement for this series Rauschenberg noted: “Your story or dream . . . these are your personal treasures to share or keep secret . . . think of them as seeds . . . the stories can change as time does . . . move fearlessly with love.”

ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG, Page10, Paragraph 3, 2001, pigment transfer on polylaminate, 217 × 154 cm. Copyright Robert Rauschenberg Foundation-
Licensed by VAGA, New York. Courtesy De Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong. 

Similar to his series “Short Stories,” Rauschenberg’s “Scenario” (2002–06) is a group of works that depict commonplace images that either the artist had taken himself or sourced from found materials. One of its pieces, Roundabout (Scenario) (2005), is particularly intriguing, depicting images of a large bowl of cherry tomatoes, two lampposts, children at a skate park, graffiti on walls, store signs and, oddly enough, a garbage truck. The use of empty space and the misalignment of the images disconnect them from one another, yet they all evoke a sense of familiarity and nostalgia for American culture. Commenting on “Scenario,” Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Oscar Hijuelos stated that it features “massive, ‘super’ multilayered paintings that tell stories and cry out about American life; they are panoramas that have an epic quality.” The almost gridlocked assemblage of images reflects Rauschenberg’s perception of the time in which they were created, providing not only a historical record of time and place, but also unique insight into the artist’s captivation with the American livelihood.

ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG, Roundabout (Scenario), 2005, inkjet pigment transfer on polylaminate, 217 × 306 cm. Copyright Robert Rauschenberg Foundation-
Licensed by VAGA, New York. Courtesy De Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong. 

During the vibrant years of the modern art movement in the US, Rauschenberg was a trailblazer who pushed conventions and succeeded in challenging perceptions of art and artists at home and abroad. The selected works at De Sarthe Gallery provide audiences with a clear sense of Rauschenberg’s eclectic approach to the creative process, prompting consciousness of everyday moments that continues to resonate today.

“Robert Rauschenberg” is on view at De Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong, until July 16, 2016.