… This is American life seen from street level … , not in imperial plenitude but patched together with scraps.
Robert Rauschenberg, Rebus, 1955
… The picture [Rebus] embodies a conception of the artist’s unpremeditated relation to his process and to his material that supposes an immediate contact with New York School painting of the early 1950s.
Yet the two big brushstrokes in the center, which at first seem to mime the energetic calligraphy of Abstract Expressionism and extend the directional verve of the two runners in the photographs at either end, finally sag downward as much as they move forward: their lethargic drips are realist rebuttals to the romanticism of action painting’s trademark splatters.
[line break added] And the culture of ephemera is similarly shown as seedy, scrawled-on, and stained. The “media” here — nondescript tabloid sports photos, long-running Sunday comic strips, and a hack election poster for a forgotten lieutenant governor’s race — have the same deflating relation to high-gloss advertising and big-time “I Like Ike” productions as the turgid brushstrokes do to the fine flourishes of second-generation Pollock-school painting.
This is American life seen from street level in Lower Manhattan, not in imperial plenitude but patched together with scraps. Rebus is a picture that is personal and impulsive without being private or decisive, and it is full of contradictions — energy and irony, fresh and faded, eternity’s icons and yesterday’s papers. Commercial imagery is just one part of the incoherent patchwork of daily experience, assimilated into the diaristic activity of picture-making, through an unpredictable, reflexive openness to illogical simultaneity.
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… Imperial Rome may look like aqueducts and legionnaires from outside, but at home it’s experienced as a chaos of private matters, competing interests, and cats in the sewers.
My most recent previous post from this book is here.