350MC – Robert Rauschenberg & Willem de Kooning – Erasing Imagery
Rauschenberg self-portrait and Erased de Kooning drawing, 1953 (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)
“In the midst of an experimental period during which he made paintings from such materials as gold leaf, toilet paper and dirt, Rauschenberg asked himself whether a drawing might be made from erasing. At first, he tried erasing what he had drawn, but this was not satisfying, and he decided that he needed a drawing that was inarguably a work of art. He went to the painter Willem de Kooning, explained his project and asked him for a drawing to erase. Initially reluctant, de Kooning soon agreed, going through stacks of drawings to find one with a combination of media that would be difficult to erase. Several weeks and many erasers later, Rauschenberg had completed his task. The sheet of paper, with ghostly traces of the image remaining, was subsequently matted and framed with a small label that reads ‘Erased de Kooning Drawing – Robert Rauschenberg – 1953.”
We have all done things like this in magazines or newspapers. Maybe it seems more controversial to draw on or appropriate the works of successful practitioners. If somebody went and drew some stuff on some of my work nobody other than me would care. If somebody was to draw a moustache on the newspaper over a face of a soldier that died in battle it would be more frowned upon than if somebody drew a moustache on the face of Jim Carey on a film poster. So maybe when we look at work that has a significant meaning for example some photojournalistic photos of starving African families one would feel less inclined to start erasing parts of the photo because they are photos that we associate with real life. I think people would feel less upset about Elaine Sturtevant appropriations of Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein’s work because by the majority of people they are looked at in a different way. We look at Andy Warhols work because we like Marilyn Monroe, we look at photojournalism because we care about the stories that are told.