Tabula Rasa


Mainly recognized as a brilliant colorist, Rauschenberg often retreated to “low” or “no” color when experimenting with a new medium. In a letter to art dealer Betty Parsons postmarked October 18, 1951, Rauschenberg described his White Painting series (1951) as taking “you to a place in painting art has not been . . . the plastic fullness of nothing.” His erasure of Willem de Kooning’s drawing two years later was interpreted by art historian Leo Steinberg as an Oedipal gesture of the young artist against the Abstract Expressionist paternal example. The resulting absence of color—and of line in this case as well—provided a tabula rasa (a blank slate) that would serve as a springboard for new developments in Rauschenberg’s art. Other times, the sapping of color offers a respite for the artist between or in the midst of a highly colored series, as for example with Vow (1976) from the Jammer series, which is made from undyed cotton; and imagery, as for example in Time Scan (1991) from the Phantom metal painting series, that is so pale and ghostly that it nearly disappears altogether.

White Painting [four panel], 1951
White Painting [four panel]
Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953
Erased de Kooning Drawing
Open Season
Baton Blanche (Cardboard), 1971
Baton Blanche (Cardboard)
Sant’Agnese (Venetian), 1973
Sant’Agnese (Venetian)
Egyptian Series 5, 1973
Egyptian Series 5
Rauschenberg Circle
Page 2 (Pages)
Untitled (Pyramid Series) 1974
Untitled (Pyramid Series)
Glacier (Hoarfrost), 1974
Glacier (Hoarfrost)
Vow (Jammer)
Niagara Summer Glut 1987
Niagara Summer Glut
Rauschenberg Off White Sketch
Time Scan (Phantom)