Hoarfrost is a kind of lacy film made up of minute, needle-like ice crystals. It is a fleeting phenomenon, occurring at night when dew freezes and melting quickly when the sun rises. Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925–2008) evoked hoarfrost’s transience and gauzy delicacy by printing illustrations, comics, advertisements, and news stories on overlapping panels of diaphanous and sensuous fabrics, such as silk, satin, taffeta, and muslin. The Hoarfrosts, hung loosely, ripple and rustle in air currents stirred by gallery visitors. The effect is alluded to in the prints’ lighter-than-air imagery—hot air balloons, a hang-glider, a propeller airplane, a cliff diver suspended mid-plunge. Rauschenberg sought to blur the distinction between art and life, declaring, “I think a picture is more like the real world when it’s made out of the real world.” The newsprint in the series was gathered from September 1974 issues of the Los Angeles Times, linking each of the Hoarfrost Editions to a specific date and place in the real world. But, shadowy and blurred, veiled and spectral, the Hoarfrosts convey this link as tantalizingly elusive, as ephemeral as the series’s frosty and transient namesake.
Robert Rauschenberg, Hoarfrost Editions, 1974
Robert Rauschenberg, Scrape (detail), 1974, offset lithograph transferred to collage of paper bags, China silk, and silk chiffon, Gift of Gemini G.E.L. and the Artist, 1981. © Robert Rauschenberg and Gemini G.E.L./ VAGA, New York, NY