Untitled is an excellent example of Robert Rauschenberg's finest transfer drawings and carries with it a uniquely privileged provenance having spent time in the personal collection of Andy Warhol. Having met in 1960, Rauschenberg and Warhol developed both a working and personal friendship. With a passion for photography and photo-reproduction these two artists shared much in common, both became instrumental in the development of the Pop-Art movement influencing countless future generations of artists.
Executed in 1968, a year seen by many historians as one of the most volatile in American history (from student protests over the Vietnam War, to the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy), this transfer drawing, highlights important moments in American cultural, technological and ideological history. Referencing the "Space Race" as it was coined; the main attraction in this transfer is an image of a space craft which appears alongside smaller images of cars and a human figure. Appropriated from various media sources, Rauschenberg utilizes a wide range of graphic images, layered apparitions, dense with washes of white, gray and black pigmented ink, paint and chemicals. By combining appropriated imagery and an aggressive manner with unconventional mediums Rauschenberg creates totems that reflect on both society and the nature and process of art making.
With the pencil as his instrument, Rauschenberg's transfer method incorporated fragmented images appropriated from mass media. This revolutionary technique, that lies between monotype and collage, became a two dimensional extension of his Combines of the 1950s with their use of cut and collaged materials and printed imagery. Cutting "out printed matter, photographic images or text which caught his eye," Rauschenberg would then "soak them in solvent, first using turpentine, later lighter fluid." (Robert Rauschenberg, Transfer Drawings from 1960's, ex. cat., Jonathan O'Hara Gallery, 2007). Placing the wet printed positives on a sheet of white paper, he would then use the pressure of rubbing the pencil to 'transfer' the image onto the main sheet, creating a pictorial time capsule. This technique, which provided little room for error, captured images that documented both the historical and banal moments in mid-century American culture. Dense with images and newspaper headlines, Rauschenberg's transfer drawings create a nostalgic experience similar to that of watching the nightly news on a hazy vintage black and white television.