The concept of time was an important and often defining element in the work of both Rauschenberg and John Cage, and in this transfer drawing from 1961 dedicated to 'John C', Rauschenberg addresses this concept directly.
Rauschenberg's transfer drawings were works that he had begun making in 1958 as a kind of graphic extension of his Combines. Created by pouring lighter fluid onto a printed magazine image, pressing it against the paper ground and rubbing the back of it with a pencil to transfer the image, these works were ones that, like the Combines, incorporated into themselves an entire world of disparate imagery and material. Part collage, part drawing and part painting they were a two-dimensional graphic echoing of his larger-scale experiments 'combining' the fields of painting and sculpture and as such they often mirrored and even anticipated the aesthetic development of the three-dimensional Combines.
Created in 1961, this untitled transfer drawing reflects the increasingly conceptual development of Rauschenberg's Combines at this time, in particular his works dealing directly with time and displaying clock faces such as Reservoir and his three Time paintings -- works, created in a heard-but-not-seen performance that documented and displayed the time Rauschenberg had taken to make them. Rubbed onto the surface of the picture a series of transfer-drawn images of watch faces seems to document and freeze the brief moments of their creation while at the same time generating a confused sense of spatial and temporal displacement throughout the picture plane. This sense of several coinciding moments in time is apparently anchored by a transfer image displaying the year of this work's creation, 1961, twice and in reverse at the bottom of the picture.
Drawing on the influence of Marcel Duchamp whose great final painting Tu m' Rauschenberg's transfer drawings often resemble, this work gained an extra temporal dimension a few years after it was made when it was dedicated and given to John Cage. Sometime around 1964-5 Rauschenberg, never known for his punctuality, gave this work to his friend Cage as a goodwill gesture of apology after Cage, had given him a lecture on the importance of time by way of berating him for always being late.