November 1, 2019 / Jesse Rntoul

Soon we will remember a century of Robert Rauschenberg, in honour of that fact and to adequately beat the art-world to the punch as it were, we travel back to remember one of the most prominent artists of the 20th century.

1925, Port Arthur, Texas, a child is born. Milton Ernest "Robert" Rauschenberg.

Somewhere in the gap between art and life, this boy and then man devotes his life to helping people, first in healthcare and then through art. Widely exhibited, lauded for his works and even kicking old masters like DaVinci off the walls of a Chilean museum, Robert Rauschenberg exemplified an unwavering belief in the power of arts in humanity. In 1943, long before he would develop as an artist Robert “Bob” Rauschenberg was drafted into the U.S. Navy. He was stationed in California where he could aid as a technician at a mental hospital, he would be discharged two years later. After leaving the Navy Robert travelled to Paris on the G.I. bill that made it available to recruits. He had originally studied pharmacy and all signs seemed to indicate that he would work in healthcare or medicine but the Académie Julian wanted him, and that was that.

Académie Julian, when it was founded in 1867 and long since, implored its students to juxtapose their life and their art as frequently and sincerely as humanly possible. This can be seen all throughout the visual bluntness and sincerely reflective expressions of Rauschenberg’s “ROCI” series. In the tender age of emerging technology and shifting cultures we live in there’s no more worthy a rememberance than for the man from Texas who sought not only to heal the sick, the mentally afflicted, but heal the world itself and all that ails it by reasoning that art was the only true way of bringing people closer to true empathy and unity. He would engage people to be more curious, more outgoing, more involved in the world around them and to accept its bountiful diversity of colours. The “overseas culture interchange”, written compactly but deftly across the diameter of the canvas, a fearless vision of peace and harmony that documents Rauschenberg’s own travels and in a broader sense, the desire to understand all peoples and appreciate life’s uniquity.

"Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. I try to act in that gap between the two." - R.R. 1959

Instead Robert walked the road less travelled, fine arts school. He travelled east to study at Kansas City Art Institute, some eight hundred and thirty miles north of Port Arthur.
Julian, which historically implored its students to juxtapose life and art as frequently and sincerely as humanly possible. It’s commonly said he took a lot of guidance and education from German modernist Josef Albers, during his ,time spent at Black Mountain College just near Asheville, North Carolina, a school that relies on experimentation and feeling in artistic practice. In 1982 Robert travelled to China to explore new horizons, their government at the time suspected (even if slightly) that he could be a spy for America, attempting to steal their paper-making secrets. So instead of working in man-kind’s oldest paper-mill Robert was hosted in a sort of “VIP-tent”. Seeing the stark landscapes and tense undertones of authoritarianism inspired him to break down walls by founding a cultural exchange program: ROCI. More than anything else Rauschenberg was on a cathartic quest for peace across cultures, a peace achieved through art. Art rich with organically sourced colours, fabrics and textures.

If ever there was a long-lost perspective on the world needed even half as much in 2019 it is Rauschenberg’s that we might recall while imagining better tomorrows.