Monday, December 17, 2012

The Time I Went to Bob's House, Part Two

The Captiva Studio
Image ©Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
As I've mentioned before, I work in Maine during the summer.  I was running errands the day that Mr. Rauschenberg's assistant called because I was leaving the state for two months the next day.  When she told me that he'd extended an invitation for me to come down, I was blown away.  I had to review in my own head.  Who's assistant?  Rauschenberg's.  Robert Rauschenberg's.  Okay.  Wants me to do what?  Come to his home/studio.  What?  When?  As soon as possible.  Was this really happening?  Yes.  Yes it was.

So I went.  Well...what else was I going to do?  Not go?!  Yeah.  Right.  I made the necessary arrangements to arrive in Maine later, and headed for Florida.  Everyone drives to Maine from Illinois, via Florida.  It's a common occurrence.

I'll share what I wrote down about that day, clear back in 2004, so as to not leave out anything:
It's not that the experience of going to Bob Rauschenberg's studio didn't feel real, it's just that if felt unlike anything else had until then.  I was swimming in realization and awe.  I came to understand so much, was as impressed as I'd ever been.  I tried to have very low expectations during this whole adventure.  When the letter was sent, I didn't really expect to hear anything.  When I heard something, I didn't really expect to go to Florida.  When I went to Florida, I didn't expect anyone to be warm and welcoming.   
When they were warm and welcoming, I chucked all remaining expectations, and just went with it.  Lauren Getford called my cell phone as we (my friend Nathan tagged along) passed an orange grove somewhere in Central Florida.  It wasn't until then that it became real.   
As we drove out to Captiva, I was a nervous wreck.  It was a hot day.  It rained a little.  It felt as though it took forever to get to his place.  When I got there, at Untitled Press, I was completely impressed with all that I saw.  The color white saturates all memories I have of the experience.  I went to the wrong door before someone came out and led me into the lower studio.  It was large...probably 60' x 100', with many work areas.  There were sinks, metal tables (fabricated in house - they were massive), printing areas, etc.  The lower studio was "where all the 'messy work' happen(ed)."  Along the back wall were racks.  They went all across the studio.  They held tens of thousands of silk screens.  Probably ever Rauschenberg image from the past 50 years.  Mr. Getford said that the archivists wouldn't let them throw any of them away, so they kept them there - though by the way they talked there was a warehouse in New York that housed most of the work.  After seeing the "messy" studio, we jumped onto the freight elevator and went up to the other studio - the purpose of which seemed to be higher than simple art-making.  It was where everything came together.  The space itself was awe inspiring.  It was a tall, pristinely white room flooded with Florida sun (though highly air conditioned.)   it was the kind of room that made art look better.  There was a lot of workspace upstairs too.  A paint rack (loaded with giant jars of Golden acrylics).  A TV.  The outer edge of the room housed offices, a kitchen, a lounge, and a print archive.  On one of the big tables was a large pile of images - "his palette," they called it.  Light bulbs, The Statue of Liberty, and a lot of other photographic material made up a huge pile that had all been printed onto a special transfer paper.  Most of the work that Bob had been doing lately was photo-transfer collages composed on a high quality paper that had been laminated (with Golden acrylic medium) onto sheets of aluminum.  All this time, and he's still finding ways to use pieces of the world.
The tour continued as we walked out onto the grounds, by the pool, and out to "The Fish House," which is original to the property and often used as a guest space.  Most recently David Byrne had been writing there.  For a long time, we stood on the deck of that space talking, by the bay, in the warm day.  At some point in the conversation I came to a pretty important conclusion regarding process.  During the studio tour, Mr. Getford had talked a lot about rial and error, which struck me.  How an artist of such stature can still, after 60 years into his career, be struggling with many of the same issues as the rest of us.  We're just guys who make art.  It blew my mind.  I felt so connected to Rauschenberg, and to all artists.  
When we left, after touring a bit more, I didn't want to.  I wanted to stay.  But i didn't get to.
So the big question...what about Bob?  What did he say?  What was he like?  Well, I didn't actually get to meet him.  I know.  I drove to Florida for nothing, right!?  Hardly.  That trip was one of the most fundamentally clarifying events in my artistic career.  Mr. Rauschenberg had planned to meet with us, but was feeling under the weather, and was taken to the doctor.  He had suffered a stroke a few months prior to that, and they didn't want to be too careful.  But it was wonderful to be there.  Mr. Rauschenberg's staff was amazing - insightful, helpful, and accommodating.

Since his passing, I've often wondered what happened to Untitled Press, the staff, and allof the wonderful that I saw there that day.  After doing some research, I've learned that the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation has launched a residency program on the grounds.  So even though Bob isn't making work there anymore, art still calls that paradise home.

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