Robert Rauschenberg, who died overnight on Tuesday at his home in Florida, aged 82, was a towering and prolific 20th century artist who developed a unique and compelling style.
He was perhaps best known for his “Combines,” a genre he developed in the 1950s which integrated aspects of painting and sculpture and often included incongruous “found” objects.
One of his best-known combines, the 1959 work he called Monogram, incorporated a stuffed angora goat, a tire, a police barrier, the heel of a shoe, a tennis ball and paint.
Five years after Monogram, Rauschenberg became the first American artist to win the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale, one of the art world’s highest honors.
Born Milton Rauschenberg in Texas on Oct. 22, 1925, Rauschenberg initially wanted to be a minister or pharmacist. He studied pharmacology at the University of Texas at Austin before serving as a neuropsychiatric technician in the US Navy. It was during his military service that Rauschenberg discovered a talent for drawing.
After leaving the navy in 1948, he studied art in Paris. He moved to North Carolina less than a year later to continue his studies at Black Mountain College under masters including the Bauhaus movement’s Josef Albers.
Rauschenberg later moved to New York, where he took classes at the Art Students League between 1949 and 1951.
With Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg is considered one of the most influential artists to react against Abstract Expressionism, a US painting style characterized by loose brushwork and lack of figuration.