- Robert Rauschenberg
- combine painting: oil, cotton sleeves on canvas, electric cord with light bulb, wood, and tin with enameled pot and metal chain
- 67 x 48 x 9 3/4 in. (depth variable) 170.2 x 121.9 x 24.8 cm (depth variable)
- Executed in 1961.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (LC# 108)
Galerie Alfred Schmela, Düsseldorf
Acquired by the present owner from the above in November 1969
New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Rauschenberg Quixotic Polychrome, November - December 1961
Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Amerikaner, Kunst aus der USA nach 1950, October 1977 - January 1978, p. 29, illustrated
Krefeld, Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Sammlung Helga und Walther Lauffs - Amerikanische und europäische Kunst der sechziger und siebziger Jahre, November 1983 - April 1984, cat. no. 279, p. 73, illustrated in color and illustrated in color on the cover
Krefeld, Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Schwerpunkt Skulptur, June - October 1992
Andrew Forge, Rauschenberg, New York, 1969, p. 74, illustrated
Kaiser Wilhelm Museum Krefeld, Schwerpunkt Skulptur: Hundertvierzig Werke von achtzig Künstlern, 1950-1990, Bonn, 1992, cat. no. 103, p. 39, illustrated in color
Joachim Jäger, Robert Rauschenberg-Combine Paintings 1960-1962, Vienna, 1999, p. 137, illustrated in color
Exh. Cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (and traveling), Robert Rauschenberg Combines, 2005, pl. 141, p. 165, illustrated in color
Robert Rauschenberg's Combine Paintings are analogues of art and life as experienced by this most innovative and radically independent artist of American art's mid-century. Characterized by collage and gestural paint application, these hybrid works are intimate, personal, and authentic. Rauschenberg's first Combines evolved out of his Red paintings and as he started to add three-dimensional objects to his work, he chose items of personal significance. As the years passed the Combines became subtler and more distanced representations of his personal history. Slug from 1961 is an excellent example of the artist's attempt to explore the idea of `beauty' and to defy any conventional notions of the `beautiful'. Rauschenberg confronted the challenge of devising his own unique contribution to the preceding decades of Modernist innovation, and in the manner of Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso before him, he brought new life to his work with the integration of found objects. There is a deeply humanistic element of rescue to the Combines, as objects that may have otherwise been discarded are given aesthetic importance.
As is typical of the later Combines, Slug is more sculptural than two-dimensional paper or fabric collage. In this composition, Rauschenberg creates the shape of a house, with pointed roof and chimney, and the suggestion below of a door or window with a light on inside. Many of the earlier Combines make subtle references to home as Rauschenberg began to address his past and his origins. The present work is the depiction of a quaint home seemingly welcoming, but in reality, birdhouse-sized and mounted on the wall, thus distancing it from both the artist and the viewer. The allusion to a bird, and the corollary of flight, is a recurring and significant motif for Rauschenberg throughout his oeuvre and particularly apparent in the colored Silkscreen Paintings of the early 1960s. The flat, triangular roof is composed of abstract expressionist gestures of thick paint, yet the strokes themselves are physically contained. The rectangular form below is constructed from a reflective piece of metal with a small round hole cut out for the light, part of the artist's experiments with illumination and materials that create a truly optical experience. By 1961, direct references had given way to more intellectual and subtle imagery in Rauschenberg's work, rendering the compositions less overt. In Slug, the two cuffs of a sweatshirt are collaged over the triangular form and are a ghostly presence, more an aesthetic element of composition than a sentimental or personal remembrance. Rauschenberg's Combine Paintings are an amalgam of painting and sculpture, and in the case of Slug, the chained metal dish further grounds the wall mounted Combine into the realm of the sculptural.
Like his friend John Cage, Rauschenberg was open to the assimilation of disordered information – in his case, visual - in all its multiple facets and interpretations. In his found objects from the street and his own life, Rauschenberg transforms urban detritus into a secret, unearthed language resurrected from the discarded traces of existence. Widely regarded as the zenith of his creative vision, Rauschenberg's Combine Paintings vibrate with an intellectual vigor that open our eyes to the chaotic beauty of the lives we live. Precociously incorporating collage elements and found objects with Abstract Expressionist painting, he breathed new life into his painterly style of the 1950s. The 1961 Combine Slug is an excellent example of the artist's unerring feel for composition and eye for poetry in found materials with explosive visual impact.