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
1951
Erased de Kooning Drawing
1953
1953
Untitled
1955
ca. 1955
Open Season
1961
1961
Baton Blanche (Cardboard)
1971
1971
Sant’Agnese (Venetian)
1973
1973
Egyptian Series 5
1973
1973
Page 2 (Pages)
1974
1974
Untitled (Pyramid Series)
1974
1974
Glacier (Hoarfrost)
1974
1974
Vow (Jammer)
1976
1976
Niagara Summer Glut
1987
1987
Time Scan (Phantom)
1991
1991