The paintings Runts on exhibit each measure approximately 5’ x 6’ and are the smallest works the artist has produced in many years. These channel surfing montages are assembled from Rauschenberg’s archive of photographs, which he then transfers onto polylaminate synthetic material mounted on aluminum panels. Runts represents a decades-long involvement in transfer images that began over 50 years ago transferring the medium of photography into painting. “Mine is the need to be where it will always never be the same again; a kind of archaeology in time only, forcing one to see whatever the light or the darkness touches, and care. My concern is the move at the speed within which to act. Photography is the most direct communication in nonviolent contacts,” wrote Rauschenberg in a 1981 essay. This and other related statements are reprinted in the accompanying exhibition catalogue.
Rauschenberg’s voracious experimentation with materials in the 1950s led to the creation of his celebrated Combine series. In the next decade he continued to make paintings, drawings, and sculpture and his interests also extended into the theater where he designed sets, costumes, and lighting and collaborated with leading choreographers such as
A turning point occurred in 1962; Rauschenberg began a serious investigation of printmaking which led to his silkscreen paintings. Applying the solvent transfer technique he discovered and used earlier in drawings to this new body of work, Rauschenberg’s approach allowed for a new use of photography in contemporary art. His silkscreen transfers included iconic American images: J.F.K., the bald eagle, and space missions, capturing an era, setting, and sentiment. Referring to the period Rauschenberg remarked, “I was bombarded with TV sets and magazines, by the excess of the world. I thought an honest work should incorporate all of these elements, which were and are a reality.”
In the 1970s Rauschenberg continued the transfer technique using various fabrics in lieu of the traditional canvas support in a series called Hoarfrosts. Rauschenberg’s more recent investigations of the photographic transfer method in his 1990s Anagrams series, as well as the newer Scenarios and the current Runts reveal the use of more personal, although no less enigmatic, images. Runts however offer no discernable narrative and any perceived narrative is in the perception of the viewer’s associations. Now drawn from his own archive of photographs taken all over the world since the 1980s, Rauschenberg has replaced the eye of mass media with his own.