"Art can change the world."(1)
Robert Rauschenberg Barge (Barcaza), 1962–63
Oil and silkscreen ink on canvas, 203 x 980 cm.
Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, with additional funds contributed by Thomas H. Lee and Ann Tenenbaum; the International Director’s Council and Executive Committee members: Eli Broad, Elaine Terner Cooper, Ronnie Heyman, J. Tomilson Hill, Dakis Joannou, Barbara Lane, Robert Mnuchin, Peter Norton, Thomas Walther, and Ginny Williams; Ulla Dreyfus-Best, Norma and Joseph Saul Philanthropic Fund, Elizabeth Rea, Eli Broad, Dakis Joannou, Peter Norton, Peter Lawson-Johnston. Michael Wettach, Peter Littman, Tiqui Atencio, Bruce and Janet Karatz, Giulia Ghirardi Pagliai, 1997
Robert Rauschenberg (b. Port Arthur, Texas, 1925; d. Captiva Island, Florida, 2008) was one of the most prolific contemporary American artists. He worked for nearly sixty years creating artworks in various mediums, including painting, photography, sculpture, performance, and printmaking. Rauschenberg’s paintings incorporated techniques far beyond the use of paint, such as screenprinting, collaging, transferring, and imprinting. He also used a wide array of materials in his paintings, from canvas, board, and fabric to sheet metal, Plexiglas, plaster, and paper. (2)
Rauschenberg’s use of recognizable popular imagery and commercial techniques led critics to identify him with other artists working in a similar way, such as Andy Warhol (b. Pittsburgh, 1928; d. 1987, New York). Although Rauschenberg’s works were more gestural and handmade than the works of these contemporaries, he was still considered an artist of the Pop art movement.
In the late 1950s, Rauschenberg coined the term Combines, in reference to his series of works that mixed objects and abstract painting, blurring the line between painting and sculpture. In his Combines he incorporated newsprint and three-dimensional objects, such as a stuffed eagle and goat, street signs, or a quilt and pillow. By 1962, he switched from found objects to found images, and began screenprinting to his paintings images culled from newspapers and magazines.
Barge (1962–63) is a single canvas measuring nearly 10 meters across. Rauschenberg created it during a 24-hour period, and it is the largest of the series of 79 screenprint paintings the artist made from 1962 to 1964. This monumental monochrome work incorporates many different themes related to the urban environment, space exploration and flight, modes of transportation, and examples from art history. Although it looks abstract from a distance, if you look closely, recognizable imagery appears.
The screenprinting technique, new to Rauschenberg at the time, allowed him to evolve from his earlier direct-transfer method, incorporating images from newspapers and magazines (including ads, photographs, maps, and comics) into his drawings and paintings. With this practice, Rauschenberg could photographically enlarge found imagery on the screenprints. This process freed him from the scale restrictions of his earlier transfer techniques and allowed him to easily reuse images in varied contexts.
1. “Vision and Mission,” Rauschenberg Foundation.
2. “Biography,” Rauschenberg Foundation.
Observe the painting with your students and make a list of the images that students can recognize. Read the list aloud. What relationships can they find among these images? An art critic once said that Barge tells the story of life in the United States. (1) What do students think about that statement? What kind of story might Barge be telling about the country?
Encourage your students to research what was happening in the United States in the 1960s, and create a time line listing major historical events. Compare the information in the time line with the imagery in Barge. Discuss how the artist reflected these events in his work.
Consider the color used in this painting. Why do you think Rauschenberg chose to paint Barge in black, white, and gray? Parts of the work are hand-painted, others are collage-like, and some images are introduced by the artist by screenprinting. Can students identify, and recognize the differences between, each of these processes? Do students think there is a criterion that he applies to select the method or technique of each image or section? Explain.
1. Jill Johnston. “The World Outside His Window,” Art in America (April 1992), p. 120.
- Rauschenberg used images from the media to create this work that depicts life in the United States. First, ask students to think about how they would represent the life of their own city or town through images. Then, go through discarded newspapers, magazines, old photographs, and catalogs to create a collage. Cut fragments of the images selected, and piece them together on a sheet of paper. Encourage students to try surprising juxtapositions of the pictures, to increase the possibility for multiple meanings and levels of interpretation. Once students have finished collaging, add final touches using paint.
- Screenprinting is a technique that utilizes stencils to draw or paint identical images. The artist cuts out an image on a sheet of paper or plastic film, then places it on a fabric screen. The image is coated with ink, and the ink is forced through the mesh onto the printing surface with a squeegee.
– tracing paper
– thick marker
– foam core or old picture frame (10 x 15 cm or larger)
– contact paper
– craft knife or scissors
– screenprint fabric or any thin fabric such as polyester or cotton
– construction paper
– canvas (50 x 65 cm or larger)
– paint brushes
1) Ask students to look through magazines to find a simple image that attracts them. With tracing paper (the same size as their foam core or picture frame) and a thick marker, trace the image onto the tracing paper.
2) Mount fabric to foam core or picture frame. To correctly mount the fabric, tack one corner down with a stapler, pull tight on the opposite corner, and tack that corner down. Then, staple along this side and repeat around the edge, constantly pulling and tightening. Hammering in the staples will help to make it tight.
3) Tape tracing paper on top of the paper side of the contact paper. Double check that the image fits inside the screen. Cut the contact paper in the shape that was traced, using a craft knife or scissors. Peel the paper backing off of the contact paper and carefully stick the contact paper to the underside of the screen (the flat side that is facing the table). Position the shape so that it is centered in the window. Smooth out any bubbles and be sure that the contact paper is flat against the screen.
4) Test the screenprint. To do this, place the screen on top of construction paper. Put a small amount of paint onto the screen. Take the squeegee and carefully spread the paint inside the screen. Be sure that the paint spreads across the whole area. You can pull the paint across a couple of times, but not too many times, or the image will blur.
5) Once students have tried screenprinting on construction paper, they can do it on canvas. But first, ask students to look at what other students have made, because they are going to be able use each other’s images by sharing screens. Ask students to plan their work, print their screens, and switch with other students. When students are done with the printing, they can use paint and brushes to give their work any last touches.
Collage: Two-dimensional artwork made of pasted paper, cloth, or other materials.
Combines: Robert Rauschenberg’s series of works that mix objects and abstract painting, blurring the line between painting and sculpture. In his Combines he incorporated newsprint and three-dimensional objects, such as a stuffed eagle and goat, street signs, or a quilt and pillow.
Pop art: An art movement with its roots in the 1950s that explored the world of popular culture, from which its name derives. Basing their techniques, style, and imagery on certain aspects of mass reproduction, the media, and a consumer society, Pop artists took inspiration from advertising, pulp magazines, billboards, movies, television, comic strips, and shop windows. These images, presented with (and sometimes transformed by) humor, wit, and irony, can be seen as both a celebration and a critique of popular culture.
Screenprinting: The process of creating a screenprint, which is a form of stenciling. The artist cuts out an image from a sheet of paper or plastic film. The image is then placed on a screen of silk or fine mesh fabric. The image is coated with ink, which is forced through the mesh onto the printing surface with a squeegee.
Stencil: A template that is used to draw or paint identical letters, shapes, numbers, or other patterns.
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