In the Signal Series, Robert Rauschenberg incorporates pasted, transferred and collaged images from everyday life to create a new
visual language. Sourcing his material from everyday objects, the processes of selection and amalgamation form the basis of Rauschenberg’s artistic practice. In Hie (Signal Series), Rauschenberg has selected and combined images and materials in order to create new dialogues and meanings. The Signal paintings refer back to Rauschenberg’s famed Combines of the 1950s and 60s, in which he created hybrid incorporations of painting, collage and assemblage. His technique developed the collages of Picasso and Braque, as well as the assemblages of the Dadaists and the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp.
Named after the uniform square shape of the paintings, which reminded Rauschenberg of nautical signal fags, the Signal Series refers to the symbolic function that images share with fags. Combining images and objects from the past and present in a muted palette, Rauschenberg juxtaposes an archival image of American sprinter Jesse Owens at the beginning of his record breaking 200-metre sprint at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, with a newspaper image of a scrap heap of bicycles in China, and two pasted images of cyclists racing in a velodrome. The viewer is invited to derive and decipher new meanings from these recontextualised images. The well known image of Jesse Owens is flipped on its axis, a result of the solvent transfer technique that Rauschenberg used to incorporate the image onto the surface of his painting. By transferring familiar images, the surface of Rauschenberg’s Hie (Signal Series) functions as a mirror to the everyday, challenging the distinction between art and life. As he stated in 1977, ‘I want to incorporate into my painting any objects of real life’ (R. Rauschenberg, quoted in Paris New York Paris, exh. cat., Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, 1977).