In 1962, with his international reputation as one of the most innovative young artists firmly established by his famous series of Combine paintings (1955-1962), Robert Rauschenberg began his next great series, the Silkscreen Paintings. Comprising seventy-nine works created between 1962 and 1964, these works expanded the artist's vocabulary of images through his new commercial printing technique.
"Rauschenberg began to work with silkscreens sometime in the fall of 1962, apparently after Henry Geldzahler, then curator of
twentieth-century art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, broght him to Andy Warhol's studio. Warhol had begun to work with photographic silkscreens that August, using the process to produce paintings with both black and white and color images. Rauschenberg, however, until late August of 1963, confined himself to screened images in black and white. Initially, even the hand-painted touches that played over the images and the canvas surfaces were black, white and gray...Rauschenberg told [Calvin] Tompkins that he began the series of Silkscreen Paintings in black and white because he was 'a pushover' for color and he did not want it to interfere with the problems he had posed for himself. (R. Feinstein, Robert Rauschenberg: The Silkscreen Paintings 1962-64, New York 1990, p. 45)
Rauschenberg's images were all derived from photographs, taken either by the artist himself or lifted from magazines or newspapers. Since many came from the popular press, these paintings are often seen as early manifestations of the Pop sensibility that was emerging in New York at the time. Some of the images he used included shots of the nascent space program, President Kennedy, and contemporary baseball heroes Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in their race for the home-run crown. But unlike Warhol's use of the silkscreen--one image either centrally or serially placed on the canvas--Rauschenberg's Pop images were freely intermingled with seascapes and cityscapes, trucks and cars, and other common objects. The composition is Cubist-based--most of the images or screens are lined up with the rectangular images of the canvas, thereby emphasizing their unity with the surface. He used paint on the surface very consciously to counteract the illusionistic qualities of the photographic images of the silkscreen; similarly, the way the paint is squeegeed through the screens further denies the 'reality' of the images, rendering them even more abstract.
"The Silkscreen Paintings...demand close looking...His self-proclaimed aim was 'to make a surface which invited a constant change of focus and an examination of detail,' a surface sufficiently rich in form and content to reward scrutiny by both the eye and mind. Rauschenberg may have worked 'spontaneously,' inspired by the images at hand and his concerns of the moment, but his was a highly self-conscious art in which he made innumerable formal and iconographical decisions in the process of working. He did not merely hold a mirror up to the world's multiplicity; rather, he exploited multiplicity to reveal something universal and profound about consciousness in an urban, industrial world. Although not didactic, his art demonstrates how to receive and process information and how to find order and connectivity in an apparently discontinuous environment." (R. Feinstein, p. 23)
"It was probably not coincidental that a series of three paintings featuring prominent images of baseball players were among Rauschenberg's earliest Silkscreen Paintings--Shortstop, Brace and Quarry...Although baseball was a subject that frequently played a part in Rauschenberg's work (see, for example, Urban and Suburban), these paintings were probably intended as a reply to Warhol's Baseball (1962), an assertion of Rauschenberg's method. Warhol sought a wholly impersonal, mass-produced effect, while Rauschenberg remained poetic, involved with improvisation and multidirectional associative content. Warhol used a regular grid format, while Rauschenberg produced scattered, intuitively balanced designs whose gestural quality betrayed New York School influences, as did his addition of hand-painted passages. Warhol repeated a single image over the surface of his canvases; Rauschenberg opted for multiplicity." (R. Feinstein, p. 91)