Tutorial with David Ferry, 10/03/14 – Robert Rauschenberg’s Early works

Rauschenberg sits in front of ‘White Painting [seven panel]’

My tutorial with David Ferry was fascinating, I had never had a tutorial with him before, but had had brief discussions and conversations with him at distinctive times; in the lift, during board committee meetings (I am a student rep for my year by default, on account of being roped into a meeting when the original representatives did not show), and so looked forward to this tutorial with great interest. As we discussed the sight and concepts of my work, he pointed me towards the research of four sources; this is the first one.

Quite possibly one of the most pioneering of the 20th Century Artists was Robert Rauschenberg, more often known for his ‘combines’, a mixture of sculpture and painting that others have been able to copy, but not replicate, later in life. However, this is not what I have been researching, in favour of his earlier minimalistic works, which were created at a time when Abstract Expressionism was rampant in the East Coast of New York, and the creation of Duchamp’s ready-mades were fresh in the mind of every young artist. Rauschenberg understood the eventual destruction and stripping down of Painting, and the cultural clash that was poised to explode into Minimalism, and became a precursor to it.

Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting, 1951. House paint on canvas, 72 x 72 in, four panels. Collection the artist.

Rauschenberg showcased this work; ‘White Painting’, a series of four stretched canvases painted with house paint, in 1951, and the art world was changed. It challenged us to understand nothing; to put our faith and belief into the aspect of a void, something in which we could derive no narrative, no authorship, and no intent. However, there is a sense of tension here, the potential that lies within these canvases to create works unnerves us, as we become frustrated with it’s lack of matter. It is literally nothing, and it annoys even me at times, as I feel like there is no merit to the work until I re-evaluate it as a foray into nothing, a ‘leap into the void’.

John Cage created his ground breaking piece ‘4,33’ because of this piece, being incredibly inspired by the zen-like aspects of these pieces. They themselves seem to be a corporeal form of the space within our consciences that we fall upon during self reflection, bringing the wonders of the invisible background noise of our life to the front of our minds. Cage went on to describe these paintings as if they “were airports for shadows and for dust, but you could also say that they were mirrors of the air.

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