Robert Rauschenberg’s Link
In creating Link, Robert Rauschenberg participated in a traditionally commercial activity: the craft of making paper. Link, one of eleven works in the series Pages and Fuses, was commissioned by Gemini G.E.L., the Los Angeles print publishers. Ken Tyler, director of Gemini until recently and a master printer trained at Tamarind Lithography Workshop, joined Rauschenberg during the summer of 1973 at Richard de Bas, a fourteenth-century paper mill in Ambert, France. Located southeast of Aubusson, in the Auvergne hills, Richard de Bas is one of the few artisan mills large enough to accommodate a project as complex as that planned by Rauschenberg. In addition, the director of the mill, Marius Péraudeau, is an eminent paper craftsman, whose specially made papers are widely used by print workshops.
Rauschenberg is remarkable for the freshness and spontaneity he brings to each new project that he undertakes. This freshness is related to his readiness to plunge into new experience. He is impatient with the limits imposed by the traditional categories of art, and his entire work seems a determined effort to blur the boundaries separating painting, sculpture, and printmaking.
Link is a pulp-dyed, 100 percent rag, molded paper onto which silkscreen images have been laminated. As in his early use of found objects in his paintings, Rauschenberg has incorporated found images in his prints. These images seem to float on the surface of the paper, at once familiar and yet so far removed from their source that they are anonymous. The images themselves were culled from popular magazines. The artist, however, has stated that he does not seek out specific publications for source materials and that he does not remember the sources from which the images came. Birds of flight and circular images occur throughout his work, as does the juxtaposition of the natural and the technological, the abstract and the concrete.
Rauschenberg’s methods of working allowed and encouraged variations within the edition. The images of the seagull, the foreshortened telephone pole, and the egg or fruit or sun in Link were cut out by the artist and sent to Gemini’s workshop, where they were serigraphed on Japan tissue—purposely off-register to emphasize and enhance the color variations. After printing, the images were trimmed to match the original cut shapes. At the paper mill, Rauschenberg worked not only with a master printer and paper technicians, but also with a tinsmith who formed paper molds according to the artist’s specifications. Rauschenberg indicated with pencil lines on these molds the areas for the divisions of color. Each area of color was formed by spooning wet, abundantly dyed, macerated fibers from buckets into the molds. (The usual method of making paper involves dipping a mold into a vat of wet fibers.) During the spooning, the areas of wet colored fiber bled into each other. The lamination of images occurred after the wet fibers were molded, but before the prints were couched—that is, placed between blotters. Laminating the serigraphed Japan paper tissue became an additional factor for variation within the edition; the images could not be positioned identically on any two prints, for in placing each piece, the artist could touch only the unprinted edge. The artist states that it was like “trying to flatten something in a bubble bath.”
Rauschenberg made only eight prints in this edition; the full edition of twenty-nine was completed by the staff at the paper mill. The artist has destroyed the distinction between those prints and the ones he made himself by signing the twenty-nine at random, with no indication of sequence. Link was signed on the reverse of the side shown, but the artist intended the work to be viewed from both sides (a plexiglass box with a sliding drawer was designed by the artist for this purpose). The paper molds were destroyed by the paper mill after each of the eleven editions in the series was completed.
Viewing Link, one is confronted with a new aspect of printmaking: an emphasis on paper, its color, its texture, shape, and weight, merged with subtly vibrant, floating images. Link, as well as the other works in the series Pages and Fuses, represents a fruitful merging and collaboration of old-world techniques and new-world ideas.
Excerpted from MOMA, no. 1 (Autumn 1974): 7.