“I never allowed myself the luxury of those brilliant, beautiful colors until I went to India and saw people walking around in them or dragging them in the mud. I realised they were not so artificial.” – Robert Rauschenberg
After visiting India in the early 1970s to explore textiles and printmaking, Texas-born artist Robert Rauschenberg returned to the US where he moved his studio from New York to Captiva Island, off the Gulf coast of Florida. Here he created a series of works called Jammers – named after the windjammer sailing vessel – which represent a minimalist departure from his previous collage work, and which were also an acclamation of his new island life. Combining large-scale natural fabrics – cotton, muslin, and silk – Rauschenberg stitched together expressive shapes that are reminiscent of coastal artefacts: sails, fishermen’s nets, sandy beaches, driftwood. Solid blocks of vibrant colour are layered, sewn, or held up by rattan poles, giving depth to wall hangings that have escaped their two-dimensionality.
"Moving his studio from New York to Captiva Island...he created a series of works called Jammers...which were an acclamation of his new island life"
Known for his graphic multi-material collages – called ‘Combines’ – as well as his collaborations with John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Rauschenberg was at the forefront of the post-war American experimental arts movement, alongside his contemporaries Jasper Johns and Cy Twombly, both of whom were also his lovers. He studied painting under Josef Albers, a founder of the Bauhaus, at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and often used found objects and images in his collage work. His famous Combines from the 1950s are bold, expressive pieces in which he mixes graphic, fine art, and sculptural elements. Indeed, in many ways, the Jammers are Rauschenberg’s artistic impulse to bring texture and depth to flat surfaces, only stripped to its core. Speaking of his controlled approach to the Jammers, he said, “my job was to impose a great amount of restraint upon myself… Nearly everything that I could think to do previously would have violated what these pieces wanted to be.” Evocative yet still, the Jammers are complex in their simplicity, quiet in their vibrancy, and the materials delicate in their resilience. Above all, the works express the resolute joy of a man who has just moved from the big city to a small island to find a new way to create and to be.
Robert Rauschenberg: Jammers is at the Gagosian Gallery in Britannia Street until 28 March. The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns runs at the Barbican until June 9.
Text by Ananda Pellerin
Ananda Pellerin is a London-based writer and regular contributor to AnOthermag.com.