image: Let the World In: Prints by Robert Rauschenberg from the National Gallery of Art and Related Collections

Image: Introduction
Image: Accident
Image: Technology and the News
Image: Challenging Standards
Image: Cultural Interchange
Image: Masterpieces from Venice to L.A.
Image: Ruminations

from Venice to L.A.

Rauschenberg often integrated photographs of everyday subjects with images of great works of art from the past. His Bellini series, printed and published by ULAE in 1987, includes some of the most beautiful examples of this type, featuring allegorical figures of virtue and vice adapted and enlarged from paintings by the Venetian Renaissance master Giovanni Bellini (c. 1430/1435 – 1516). Rauschenberg discarded many of the paintings' landscape backgrounds, replacing them with his own photographs. Indeed, partly because copyright issues were inhibiting his use of found images, around 1980 he began to use his own photographs almost exclusively in his art. In Bellini #2 the figure of Fortune-Melancholy with attendant putti is set among Rauschenberg's photographs of buildings, landscape, and architectural details. His skill as a colorist is apparent, revealing the influence of the great color theorist and artist Josef Albers, who was one of his teachers at North Carolina's Black Mountain College in the late 1940s.

Image: Bellini #2, 1987An effective method of reproducing photographs in fine art prints is photogravure, a process regularly used by Rauschenberg since the 1980s in prints made at ULAE. Photogravure is an intaglio process, meaning that depressions of varying depths are etched into a metal plate. These hollows hold the ink that is pressed onto the print support. Although photogravures can capture extremely fine detail, the procedures for coaxing rich, clearly articulated tone from the random-grain pattern on the photosensitized plate are difficult to master, especially if multiple plates are to be inked and aligned. The Bellini prints from 1987 used numerous color plates, each printed to produce a distinct image in broad, overlapping monochromatic passages. Street Sounds, made five years later, was far more complex, involving multiple plates in different colors, carefully aligned and printed in succession to create a full tonal range. Color photogravures of the magnitude and complexity of Street Sounds were unheard of before ULAE collaborated with Rauschenberg to develop and perfect them.

In the late 1990s Rauschenberg took to the streets of Los Angeles with his camera, seeking the extraordinary in the familiar yet often disregarded urban landscape. He documented a kaleidoscope of hand-painted murals, billboard advertisements, storefronts, street signs, and myriad other subjects. These colorful vignettes, which became the basis for a series entitled L.A. Uncovered, were originally shot on film, which was then converted to digital files at Gemini G.E.L. and printed out on paper using water-soluble inks (because of environmental concerns, Rauschenberg has moved away from oil-based inks that require hazardous solvents). The artist then laid his digital printouts face down on water-saturated artist's paper. In a variation on his early solvent-transfer drawings, he burnished the printouts from the reverse, transferring the ink irregularly onto the print support. Depending on how much water had been absorbed, the resulting images ranged from sharply detailed to fluid and diffuse. These images were later scanned and made into screenprints.

Image: National Gallery of Art; October 28, 2007 to March 30, 2008
L.A. Uncovered #12, 1998
Published by Gemini G.E.L.,
Los Angeles, California
National Gallery of Art
Gift of Lee and Ann Fensterstock, 2000

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