[The following is a continuation/epilog to "Quirk of Mind."]

Depicting Space
 
a postscript

The concept I plantatarium struggle to deal with ketchup is opposed to the logical continuity lift tab inherent in language horses and communication.This is the inevitable fate fair ground of any inanimate object Freight-ways by this, I mean anything that does not have inconsistency as a possibility built-in." – Robert Rauschenberg

 

I can't let sleeping dogs lie. I've got to poke 'em. I need to dissect and explain the joke. I get it. But why? For me, it's important not just to get it, but to get at it, to figure it out on some level and then move on to the next. It happens anyway, regardless of my effort. It's one of my quirks.

 

Back to the Rauschenberg...

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Robert Rauschenberg, CHARLENE1954, Combine: oil, charcoal, paper, fabric, newspaper, wood, plastic, mirror, and metal on four Homasote panels, mounted on wood with electric light, 

89 x 112 x 3 1/2 inches (226.1 x 284.5 x 8.9 cm), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

 

Prior to my unexpected visual slap into attention from the Rauschenberg experience, I had been roaming the picturesque streets of Amsterdam before ducking into the venerable Rijksmuseum to see the "old masters," who proved to be most assuredly both. The trouble was, for me, my relationship to the methodology. It was dated. Consider "The Little Street" painting of the revered Vermeer, for example. (see below) As intended, it indeed looks exactly like an old Dutch street, since, save for the lack of 16th century funny hats and the presence of lamp posts, the central part of most towns still look like they did a few hundred years ago. The only thing missing from Vermeer's Delft street scene painting was "Greetings from Holland" emblazoned across the canvas. Like many Dutch cities, Amsterdam has codified it's surface history, having the foresight to preserve its distinct squashed, vertical, gabled housettes (strangely similar to contemporary Houston, sans canals) for the benefit of tourists like I was, and in turn for its own commercial tourist benefit. 

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[left] Johannes Vermeer, "The Little Street" (1657-1658) oil on canvas, 21 x 17 inches, collection Rijksmuseum

[right] Amsterdam street (Het Wapen van Riga) present

Vermeer gets it right – the bricks are bricks, the wood is that, and so is everything else (although blasphemy of blasphemies, I've seen better). It's the world alright, or at least a pretend version of it, but it's back in there, back in the other direction away from the viewer into that framed space. In the case of Vermeer, what was intended as visual, historical accuracy is now admired for the precise rendering of what has become cleanly controlled quaintness. But for this young twenty year old adventurer, there was no pow. I saw Vermeer, but I couldn't see. There are reasons.

Bob gets it right too. "Charlene" is also a landscape but the aesthetics are most obviously different than Vermeer's, as is the subject, and that is all the difference. It's more than a question of clear differences of technique, of capturing a literal perception. That's only superficial. The real difference, of course, is that Vermeer is pre-photo visual exactitude. His is a picture perfect perfect picture, a side by side near match. It's sight specific. The pleasure derived from this kind of aesthetic is almost purely visual. 

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(left) "Charlene" (right) Times Square, circa 1970's

With Bob, it's the idea of the scene, with its necessary energy, that he is after, and mainly gets. At such an accelerated pace, close enough is more than enough. It's accurate but in a different way. It's conceptually accurate. A smeared swipe of yellow paint makes sense if compared to the sideways blur of a passing taxi ("Is that what that was?") Better to avoid and live than contemplate closely and get killed. Glance and go. Since Rauschenberg, like the rest of the world (thanks to Einstein et. al. decades prior), knew that time and space and energy are all interrelated, Charlene stretches out all over the place with only the you-gotta-stop-somewhere conventional confines of a framed edge to stop it. The art border is one of the few things that makes it a "picture," but we don't look into the window of this picture plane. The space isn't "in there." It's right there, but also out here. Charlene blends into us. It goes in the other (wrong?) direction. That's Bob's combination. It's not quite a picture, but not totally the street either. Instead, it's Bob's famous "gap in between." 

 

Bob's combined gap was just the bridge I was looking for at the time. I just didn't know it until I saw it. Before Charlene, I couldn't see. Until I could. Ready or not, I was blindsided by Rauschenberg. Luckily, he caught me looking. For the next several years, after running into Charlene in Amsterdam in 1976, I wrestled with Rauschenberg in my head, eventually coming to terms with him and with the southern landscape of Memphis where I lived for a few years after returning from my journeys in Europe. 

 

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(left) "Who's Afraid of Memphis?" (1980), wood, metal, auto paint, auto parts, car lot flags, neon, chain link fence, concrete, plastic debris

(right) Memphis street, 1979, photo by the author

 

Due to my own work and experiences, I eventually lost my intimidation of Rauschenberg's work, but I've never lost my reverence for it. Regardless of the near universal peerless accolades he received, I know greatness when I see it.

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the author with Bob Rauschenberg, 2007, photo by George Hixson

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September 28, 2018