Robert Rauschenberg: Big Feet, Big … Talent

THE DAILY PIC: At the Rauschenberg Foundation, an early 'self-portrait' that's nothing but the artist's footprint.

THE DAILY PIC (#1785): I was shown this 1954 drawing by Robert Rauschenberg the other week, when I had occasion to visit his foundation, sited in his former studio in New York. (I had forgotten he’d painted in an old chapel.)

The drawing, which Rauschenberg titled Lawn Combed, is one of his early, more conceptual pieces that I actually prefer to his more famous Combine paintings.

It is, obviously, a self-portrait that’s made directly from a mark left by the artist’s body, and reminds me of the “picture” of a car that Rauschenberg and John Cage made, at around the same time, by driving over a piece of paper. It also evokes (and predates) the “paintings” that both Yoko Ono and then Andy Warhol made in the early 1960s by getting people to step on blank canvases, and also the drawing that Jasper Johns did by rolling his own face across a sheet of paper. It’s also not a million miles from the photograms of bodies that won Rauschenberg his first public notice, in 1951.

I like the way Rauschenberg’s work is done directly on a salesman’s sample of fine woolen fabric, for once acknowledging the textile support that usually goes unnoticed in paintings. That sample seems to have come with the company’s lovely swan logo already stamped onto it. I wonder if, for Rauschenberg, the swan stood as a subtle reminder of the sexual and gender dynamics that he was dealing with at that moment, as he began to come out—at least to himself and his lovers—as gay. No “real” man at that homophobic moment could possibly have been seen swanning about in a bird-printed textile. He’d want to trample it underfoot. Whereas Rauschenberg seems to take an unmanly stand for delicacy and delight. (Courtesy and ©Robert Rauschenberg Foundation)

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