1955. Oil and pencil on pillow, quilt, and sheet on wood supports, 75 1/4 x 31 1/2 x 8" (191.1 x 80 x 20.3 cm)
Robert Rauschenberg is widely regarded as a predecessor of the Pop artists, because of his incorporation of the stuff of everyday life—including anything that caught his imagination, from rubber tires to light bulbs—into his wide-ranging work. In many of his works, like Bed, he merged elements of postwar abstract painting with found objects.
Bed is one of Rauschenberg’s first combines, a term he coined to describe the works resulting from his technique of attaching found objects to a traditional canvas support. In this work, however, there is no canvas. The artist took a well-worn pillow, sheet, and quilt, scribbled on them with pencil, splashed them with paint in a style similar to Jackson Pollock’s action paintings, and hung the entire ensemble on the wall.
The story goes that Rauschenberg used his own bedding to make Bed, because he could not afford to buy a new canvas. “It was very simply put together, because I actually had nothing to paint on,” he reflected years later, in 2006. “Except it was summertime, it was hot, so I didn’t need the quilt. So the quilt was, I thought, abstracted. But it wasn’t abstracted enough, so that no matter what I did to it, it kept saying, ‘I’m a bed.’ So, finally I gave in and I gave it a pillow.”
Hung on the wall like a traditional painting, his bed becomes a sort of intimate self-portrait consistent with his assertion that “painting relates to both art and life…I try to act in that gap between the two.”
A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).
A closely woven, sturdy cloth of hemp, cotton, linen, or a similar fiber, frequently stretched over a frame and used as a surface for painting.
The method with which an artist, writer, performer, athlete, or other producer employs technical skills or materials to achieve a finished product or endeavor.
A distinctive or characteristic manner of expression.
A representation of oneself made by oneself.
A movement comprising initially British, then American artists in the 1950s and 1960s. Pop artists borrowed imagery from popular culture—from sources including television, comic books, and print advertising—often to challenge conventional values propagated by the mass media, from notions of femininity and domesticity to consumerism and patriotism. Their often subversive and irreverent strategies of appropriation extended to their materials and methods of production, which were drawn from the commercial world.
An object—often utilitarian, manufactured, or naturally occurring—that was not originally designed for an artistic purpose, but has been repurposed in an artistic context.
The technique of affixing cast-off items to a traditional support, like a canvas.
A term generally used to describe art that is not representational or based on external reality or nature.
Art critic Harold Rosenberg coined the term “action painting” in 1952 to describe the work of artists who painted using bold gestures that engaged more of the body than traditional easel painting. Often the viewer can see broad brushstrokes, drips, splashes, or other evidence of the physical action that took place upon the canvas.
The Element of Surprise
For Robert Rauschenberg, the combines were about discovery and chance: “I wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted to use the surprise and the collectiveness and the generosity of finding surprises. And if it wasn’t a surprise at first, by the time I got through with it, it was. So the object itself was changed by its context and therefore it became a new thing.”1