Cv/VAR Archive & Editions
Robert Rauschenberg Gull (Jammer), 1976 Sewn fabric and rattan poles
103 x 200 x 19 inches 261.6 x 508 x 48.3 cm
Copyright Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Image courtesy Gagosian Gallery
Recollections of the Artist
David White, Head Curator, The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
in conversation with Nicholas James at Gagosian Gallery,
Britannia Street, London, 15th February 2013
NJ Are you from the Rauschenberg Foundation?
DW Yes. I worked for Robert Rauschenberg as a curator before there was a Foundation.
So you knew him well, for a long time?
I knew him from the Castelli Gallery, when I worked there in the mid '60s.
Have you got any memories of him?
Well he was a delight to know, so smart, a genius; inventive and wonderful to work with.
There's a playfulness to this exhibition, which is refreshing.
It was very much a quality of his work throughout.
I've got the feeling of the pieces being like actors on a stage - each work that you see has its own voice, its own part to play.
That's a nice way to put it, considering there's a very limited range of palette - of fabric or poles, or tin cans. But using just that limited palette there is a big variety in what is acting like this, or acting like that.
You must have visited his studio and witnessed the way that he worked? I once interviewed the sculptor Arman: he would go to the flea markets and collect objects - light bulbs, replica guns etc, which he would jostle together to auto-form in assemblages. With Rauschenberg there are found materials but a different thing going on.
Early on in New York, in the period of the combines, perhaps he would set limits for himself. How far he would travel in order to find elements for a piece. He would walk a two block area - the streets of New York are just an incredible mine of resources, from the throwing away.
So it was structured exploring?
It was always a kind of game playing too. Just thinking about how he would begin a piece. There are a couple of combines called 'First Time Painting' and 'Second Time Painting'. He set the clock when he started the painting and when he finished the painting, so there was always game playing amidst the rigor, the seriousness of his art.
I love his attitude. In this world of art with so many poisoned egos, he had a freshness,a willingness to share. There's a sense of air running through his work, which is great.
He said, if he worked on a series enough and was starting to repeat himself - that he knew too much what he was doing when he went into the studio - it was time to stop and think if there was some other thing. Most times it was situations where he didn't know what was going to happen. 'Today I'll do this and see if I get that.'
This series 'Jammers' came out of a placement in India in 1975. They carry memories of the Ashram where he worked.
The trip to India started by an invitation from the Sarabhai family. who are textile manufacturers. They were very interested in contemporary art, and they invited other artists as well. at different periods, to come and be inspired by India and perhaps the textiles as well. and produce a body of work. These are editions called Unions produced by Gemini GEL, a print workshop in Los Angeles. They are not 'Jammers' but they predict the works that came out of that trip.
The use of mud in these pieces is novel for Rauschenberg.
He referred to these as rag mud - a name he came up with. It's a mixture of paper pulp combined with a local material they built houses with - adobe - to which he added spices, which is why it smells so good - the tamarind for example.
Beyond this series, did he continue with the collaged images, was that consistent to the end?
It was a kind of pendulum swing of activity; if he had been making collages - everything including the kitchen sink - then there might be a swing, like in the early '70s. to sparer works-like Cardboards, works on paper and fabric works like these. These are from 1976, the time of his retrospective at the Smithsonian; he was considered the bicentennial artist. He saw the collection of his output up to that point - he then began the Spreads and Scales series. He was collaging images, paper, fabric, adding light bulbs and objects. So it did go back and forth.
The sense of play is wonderful - it's kind of unique.
Yes, he was always the last person to stop dancing at a party. He loved to cook, he would open the cabinet above the stove, with rows and rows of spices, and said 'let's try this out'. He was not the type to follow a recipe rigorously. it was more 'let's try this'. His life was very consistent; his activities in art meant, basically every day he woke up and wanted to make art.
Jammers' is a novel series. the colours are great - you come up against an indigo blue that just radiates you, I don't know if he dyed the fabrics himself.
No, that's the way he got them. The sumptuousness of the materials found in India, the colours contrasted with the austerity and spareness of the landscape; the poverty of the people living in shacks or on the streets.
He remarked he stayed away from bright colour until he saw these fabrics being dragged through the mud, so then he thought it was okay. (laughter)
Yes, it's a nice remark.
Thank you so much, you've been really helpful.