Catalogue entry

Robert Rauschenberg born 1925

P77146 The Razorback Bunch (Etching I) 1980

Etching 735 x 575 (29 x 22 5/8) on Twinrocker paper, same size; printed and published by Universal Limited Art Editions, West Islip, Long Island in an edition of 24
Inscribed ‘Rauschenberg 15/24 80' b.l.
Purchased at Sotheby's, New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1985
Lit: Colta Ives, ‘Razorback Country', Art News, Sept. 1982, pp.62-3

P77146 was executed in 1980 and is the first in a series of seven etchings entitled ‘The Razorback Bunch' which Rauschenberg completed in 1983. The title is an allusion to the fact that all the etchings incorporate photographs which Rauschenberg took in the southern United States, an area where the wild hog with a characteristic ridge-like back is indigenous.

Although Rauschenberg has regularly taken photographs for his own personal use from 1949 onwards, until 1980 these were never used in making works in other media. Instead, he relied exclusively on images taken from newspapers and magazines (see entries on P77107 and P77108 for a discussion of Rauschenberg's use of press illustrations as source material). The ‘Glacial Decoy Series' 1980 - a series of four lithographs - was thus a significant advance in that for the first time all the images were taken from Rauschenberg's own photographs. There was also a related project: Rauschenberg's set design for ‘Glacial Decoy', has been described by David White, curator to Rauschenberg, as ‘a dance for Trisha Brown (the "set" is a series of projected slides which were taken by RR)' (letter to the compiler dated 5 July 1988). ‘The Razorback Bunch' series was commenced shortly afterwards and represents a continuation of this change of approach: a development which David White also attributes to ‘troubles and law suits when trying to use other people's copyrighted photographs' (ibid.).

Although the Razorback hog itself does not figure in any of the works, the range of images employed in the series is diverse and includes subjects of deliberate banality such as a trash can, a neon sign and a fly. As with those photographs which derived from pre-existing sources the images selected by Rauschenberg are characteristically ordinary and he has consistently eschewed the use of photographs which look in any way strange or sensational. Instead, Rauschenberg's aim is to create works whose meaning is allusive and derives from the intriguing juxtaposition of familiar and apparently unrelated subjects. Occasionally, in ‘The Razorback Bunch' series, the images are invested with a sense of the place which produced them. For example, ‘The Razorback Bunch (Etching II)' 1980 (etching, paper size 1219 x 813, 48 x 32, edition of 24), depicts a South Carolina haystack in a tobacco field; ‘The Razorback Bunch (Etching III)' 1981 (etching, paper size 1042 x 788, 44 x 31, edition of 26), is a three plate print based on a single photograph of a large tree, a broken down sheet-metal stand-to building and a pile of tyres, all reflected in still-water, and is evocative of the poverty of the rural deep South. The Tate's etching was the result of four plates and two printings and the images employed are: at upper left, the contents of a shop-front window with reflections, printed as a negative; at upper right, a leopard moth on a ceiling and, occupying the bottom half of the print, two mattresses amidst foliage, also printed in negative. The lettering at top left is the bottom half of the word ‘Shades'. This is the title of the lithographic object, or ‘book' as Rauschenberg has called it, which he made in 1964. This consists of six panels of plexiglass, each bearing an image lithographed directly from the stone, within an aluminium frame. The first panel is the title page and is fixed. The rest are subject to free arrangement by the spectator.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.449-50