“I consider the text of a newspaper, the detail of a photograph, the stitch in a baseball, and the filament in a light bulb as fundamental to the painting as brush stroke or enamel drip of paint.”
– Robert Rauschenberg

From sculptures to paintings, over the last six decades, Robert Rauschenberg has left his mark on art history. The American artist studied at several art schools, which in turn shaped his unique creative style. Staying true to the trend of pop art during the 1950s and 60s, a lot of his work was inspired by popular culture. Rauschenberg’s style of work evolved significantly over time. From all-black surfaces underlaid with wrinkled newspaper to making art from objects such as Coca-Cola bottles and traffic barricades and calling them ‘combine’ paintings, his work evolved into bigger and bolder expressions of art. He consistently collaborated with performers, printmakers, engineers, writers, artists, and artisans from around the world to deliver distinctive pieces of art, which further helped expand his philosophy. The works listed below are an illustration of the evolution of his signature style.

Robert Rauschenberg, 1998_©Sidney B. Felsen
Robert Rauschenberg, 1998_©Sidney B. Felsen

1. Sue (1950) | Robert Rauschenberg

A collaboration between Robert Rauschenberg and artist Susan Weil led to a series of blueprint works. This style was conceived in 1949 when Weil introduced Rauschenberg to the method of exposing the paper to light and using objects and human subjects to make impressions. Through these blueprints, they addressed the question of how an artist can make a mark on a paper beside the stroke of a brush. The ability to use light as a medium of art is what makes these prints so fantastical.


2. White painting (1951)

White painting features a series of modular canvases, painted completely white, with the canvas acting almost like a screen that reflects various features within a room, including lighting and shadows. Calling them clocks, Robert Rauschenberg elaborated upon how those sensitive enough, could read them, know how many people are in the room, the time of the day, and the existing weather conditions. Over time, the white paintings have secured their place in art history as key examples of minimalism and conceptualism.

white painting(1951)_©moma.org
white painting(1951)_©moma.org

3. Erased de Kooning drawing (1953) | Robert Rauschenberg

The Erased de Kooning is another piece of artwork that is iconic in its own right, with a rather peculiar back story. Rauschenberg approached de Kooning and requested a piece of artwork to erase. De Kooning agreed and chose one that had been done in charcoal, oil paint, pencil, and crayon, which Rauschenberg dutifully erased over the following weeks. Later, fellow artist Jasper Jones finished the task of labeling and framing the artwork. He inscribed the following words on the now obliterated painting: “Erased de Kooning drawing, Robert Rauschenberg, 1953”

This painting leaves the viewer with a sense of enigma and mystery, leaving us with a plethora of possible interpretations.

Erased de Kooning drawing (1953)_©sfmoma.org
Erased de Kooning drawing (1953)_©sfmoma.org

4. Automobile tire print (1953)

A collaboration between Rauschenberg and composer John Cage, this print records a twenty-two-foot tread mark, made of a model A Ford’s wheel. Rauschenberg glued together twenty sheets of typewriter paper and laid them out on an empty road in front of his studio. Then, he proceeded to pour black paint in front of the rear tire of the Ford and directed Cage to drive over the paper. This left it with a continuous, black tread mark. This print gives us an edgy example of recording a performative act.

Automobile tire print (1953) _©moma.org
Automobile tire print (1953) _©moma.org

5. Untitled (gold painting) (1955) | Robert Rauschenberg

In 1953, Robert Rauschenberg, in his Fulton street studio in New York, made a series of rectangular paintings called the ‘Elemental Paintings’. In each of these paintings, he used one of five ‘elemental’ materials, dirt, clay, tissue paper, gold leaf, and white paint. The gold painting consists of Gold leaf on a base of fabric, newsprint, and glue placed on a canvas, framed in a wood and glass frame. Such placement of gold leaves gives the painting an impressive tactile finish.

Untitled (gold painting) (1955) _©guggenheim.org
Untitled (gold painting) (1955) _©guggenheim.org

6. Bed (1955)

As one of Robert Rauschenberg’s first combines, the ‘Bed’ is a 191.1 x 80 x 20.3 cm piece, made by framing an old pillow, sheet, and a quilt, scribbled with pencil marks and splashes of paint. The piece feels like an ode to abstract expressionism. The bedclothes used, it is believed, were Rauschenberg’s own, and the work thus has a personal touch. The bed is often seen as a ‘Portrait Without a Face’ because it symbolically represents Rauschenberg himself. This further draws attention to his theory of acting between the realms of both life and art, making this piece truly iconic. 

Robert Rauschenberg- 10 Iconic Artworks - Sheet7
Bed (1955) _©moma.org

7. Canyon (1959)

Rauschenberg often repurposed curious and unique items to meet his artistic needs. He walked around New York and used ‘whatever the day would lay out.’ Receiving a taxidermied eagle from artist Sari Dienes led to him creating ‘the Canyon’. In addition to this taxidermied eagle, he used the cuff of a man’s shirt sleeve, a metal canister, a pillow, fabric, cardboard, a photograph of his son, a mirror, and paint for this artwork.  The unaligned and tilted placement of the items evokes a sense of chaos within the viewer. This piece of work by Robert Rauschenberg alludes to the Greek myth of Ganymede, who was a beautiful young boy abducted by Zeus in the form of an eagle.

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Canyon (1959)_©moma.org

8. Skyway (1964)

This collaged imagery showcases the silkscreen technique, which was a key element in his artistic expression in the 1960s. Through skyway, Robert Rauschenberg communicated the pace of American culture in the initial half of the 60s, as communicated through television and magazines. The piece was made soon after the assassination of John F Kennedy and featured his images twice, while the surrounding images feature elements that represented the ideals of American progress. Through this collage, he mirrored and encapsulated the political and social climate around him at the time. 

Robert Rauschenberg- 10 Iconic Artworks - Sheet9
Skyway (1964)_©collections.dma.org

9. Skygarden (1969)

The 1960s marked the exploration of space travel, sparking a wave of awe and excitement among the masses. During this phase, NASA called upon artists to explore the subject. This led Robert Rauschenberg to produce the Stoned Moon series, which consisted of thirty-four lithographs, of which Sky Garden is the most celebrated. It features a series of charts, maps, and photographs, celebrating the achievements of the space program. From its imagery to the use of colors, sky garden proves to be a visual treat.    

Robert Rauschenberg- 10 Iconic Artworks - Sheet10
Skygarden (1969)_© moma.org

10. Signs (1970) | Robert Rauschenberg

During the 1960s, Robert Rauschenberg’s work took a political turn, making statements about various instances through creative expression. Signs was commissioned and ultimately rejected as a cover image for Newsweek magazine in 1970. It memorialized the dark period of the 60s, a decade marked by violence and protests regarding the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, and the feminist and gay rights advocacy. It consists of a college of figures of different sizes which overlap each other to create a dream-like sequence. This piece of work, parts of which have been washed with red color, paints a rather grim image of this period of history. 

Signs (1970) _©moma.org

From the simplicity of the white painting to the bold use of colors in the sky garden, Robert Rauschenberg’s work proves how the experimental use of mediums as part of an artist’s creative expression, can often lead to unexpected and astonishing works of art. Rauschenberg’s works will stand the test of time and act as inspiration for artists and art enthusiasts in the years to come. 


Article title: Robert Rauschenberg | American artist
Website title: Encyclopedia Britannica
URL: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Robert-Rauschenberg
Author Zuzanna Stanska
Article title: The Story How Robert Rauschenberg “Erased de Kooning”
Website title: DailyArt Magazine
URL: https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/story-robert-rauschenberg-erased-de-kooning/
Website title: Metmuseum.org
URL: https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2005/robert-rauschenberg/photo-gallery
Article title: Rauschenberg Sculptures, Bio, Ideas
Website title: The Art Story
URL: https://www.theartstory.org/artist/rauschenberg-robert/
Article title: Rauschenberg, Robert
Website title: SFMOMA
URL: https://www.sfmoma.org/artist/Robert_Rauschenberg/

Article title: The Guggenheim Museums and Foundation
Website title: The Guggenheim Museums and Foundation
URL: https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/artist/robert-rauschenberg



Tara is a student of architecture, with a keen interest in exploring futuristic solutions for problems related to the built environment. As a budding writer and researcher, she looks forward to a future marked by harmony between the built environment and nature, marking the age of ‘ecological building’