When Robert Rauschenberg began experimenting with the technique in the 1950s, he relied on lighter fluid (the solvent) in which he would soak his newsprint or magazine images, place them face-down on the support and rub them with a dry pen nib to produce the hatched mirror-images. By the 1980s, he had turned to a printing press to transfer the images, granting him the repetition of imagery without sacrificing legibility. In Morrow Drift, from 1980, the embrace of new technology allows Rauschenberg to position successfully-repeated scenes in strategic and compositionally-functional places: each image repeats, or “drifts,” across the page in a puzzle-like fashion, lending meaning to the title. “Morrow,” the title’s other half, is a term used to describe the near future and suggests the significance that time plays in the artwork. The imagery that Rauschenberg elects to incorporate emphasizes this sense of temporality or the passing of time—rowboats drifting down a river, the nomadic life of living in tents, the instantaneous, snap-of-a-finger moment of a photographer capturing an athlete in action.
Morrow Drift is a particularly significant example from this series for its scale: two sheets of paper stack on top of one another to produce an impressive articulation of imagery. Rauschenberg also incorporates fabric, adding both visual and tactile texture to the work. At top, a toile with a Pan-Asian pagoda pattern acts as a ghostlike veil, neither hiding the imagery behind it nor subsiding entirely into the background, while a checkered pattern on the lower sheet offers the same effect. “The sureness of Rauschenberg’s hand is evident in these procedures. He knows exactly where he wants the image placed, which colors to choose, how much paint to apply, and the degree of pressure necessary to saturate the screen. To fade the image at its edge, his hand lifts at precisely the correct moment… Although Rauschenberg modifies the works with additional images and paint application, he seldom revokes a decision once it is made.” (R. S. Mattison, Robert Rauschenberg: Breaking Boundaries, New Haven, 2003, p. 21) A member of the Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson Collection since 1982, Morrow Drift showcases the artist’s skillful use of graphic images and textiles to achieve a subtle yet cogent message.