Executed in 1997, decades after his initial forays into collaged and silkscreened canvases, Space Invaders [Anagram (A Pun)] possesses the same visual, intellectual, and stylistically inventive power Rauschenberg exhibited in the 1950s and 60s. Across his vast canvas, Rauschenberg screens ephemera from his everyday experience in a kaleidoscopic sprawl of contemporary imagery and cultural touchstones. A street art rendition of Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam hovers in the uppermost left corner, beneath which a series of framed photographs of Audrey Hepburn cluster together on a tabletop; pictures of building sites, snapshots of abandoned lots, enigmatic images of graffitied cacti, and a spraypainted astronaut come together in this miscellany of painting and photography. Although visually disjointed at first glance, a visual rhythm emerges from this collection of compositional components: the cubes of framed photographs, triangles from barred streets, and ovals that make up the repeated cactus motif. Rose writes: “The Anagram paintings are the newest element in Rauschenberg’s expanding universe…Once again, he uses the particular qualities of medium and paper support as they interact to absorb images of a world fragmented into a seamless whole. Like the Inferno drawings, they are made by a transfer process, and light and shadow inhere to both the origin of the image and the technique that produces it. Also as in the Inferno, each element in the pictorial structure is assigned multiple tasks, messages, identities. As Rauschenberg washes image over image, ‘abstract’ and representational, foreground and background constantly shift roles, creating spatial ambiguities that escape the expanded Cubist grid structure.” (Ibid., pp. 8-9)
Positioned squarely between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art in the middle of the twentieth century, Rauschenberg is an artist whose varied output of sculptures, paintings, drawings, and performances shattered traditional boundaries. His unrivaled experimentation and iconoclastic approach to integrating life and objects into his artistic practice gained him a reputation as the enfant terrible of the New York School, an identity he embraced as he forged an avant-garde aesthetic that was entirely and uniquely American. Following his attendance at Black Mountain College in 1948 – where he met fellow artists Cy Twombly, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham – Rauschenberg moved to lower Manhattan, where the gritty urban landscape, both decaying and invigorating, inspired his output in the 1950s and 60s. Errant paint splatters, weathered advertisements, fragments of billboards, and commercial signs sprawled across building facades in a visual assault of post-war consumerism and constant flux provided constant visual stimulation which in turn prompted the development of his unique aesthetic. In tandem with the inspiration drawn from his surroundings, Rauschenberg looked to the onslaught of quotidian images and stories from magazines and newspapers such as LIFE, Newsweek, Esquire, and National Geographic, illustrating a populism exquisitely displayed in Space Invaders [Anagram (A Pun)].
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