An 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.
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