Catalogue entry

Robert Rauschenberg born 1925

P77107 Visitation II 1965

Lithograph 765 x 564 (30 1/8 x 22 1/4) on Rives BFK paper, same size; watermark ‘Rives'; printed and published by Universal Limited Art Editions, West Islip, Long Island in an edition of 44
Inscribed ‘Rauschenberg 65' b.r. and ‘22/44' b.r.
Purchased at Christie's (Grant-in-Aid) 1985
Repr: Rauschenberg Graphic Art, exh. cat., Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennslyvania, Philadelphia 1970, p.18 no.29

P77107 is the second of a pair of lithographs bearing the title ‘Visitation' which Rauschenberg made in 1965. Both prints were printed and published at Universal Limited Art Editions, New York: ‘Visitation I' in an edition of 42, ‘Visitation II' in an edition of 44. In each print the photographic imagery and its disposition within the composition is the same, and may be identified as follows: at top right there is a horse and jockey; to the left of centre, the head of a trumpet-player; at right centre, a larger image of a domestic interior and at bottom centre, a farmer in checked shirt and peak cap standing in a ploughed field and inspecting a box of plants. This final image also appears in ‘Pledge' 1968 (see P77108).

The use of photographic imagery is central to Rauschenberg's art and particularly to his printmaking. Until 1980 he relied exclusively on images taken from newspapers and magazines; after this date he also used photographs which he had taken. There are four methods by which Rauschenberg has transferred photographic images to the lithographic stone. The first was employed in those lithographs made between 1962 and 1964 which feature previously published images, namely: ‘Urban', ‘Suburban', ‘License' and ‘Stuntman I, II and III' (all 1962); ‘Accident', ‘Rival' and ‘Jewish Museum Poster' (all 1963); and ‘Plank', ‘Mark', ‘Sink', ‘Ark', ‘Kar', ‘Rank', ‘Prize' and ‘Shades' [a lithographic object] (all 1964) (all repr. Philadelphia exh. cat. 1970, pp.12-16 nos 5-21). This involved taking the original printer's plates - which would be either photo-engraved newspaper plates obtained from the newspaper which published the photograph, or commercial offset plates - and transferring the image by pressing the plates directly onto a stone covered with lithographic tusche. The second method, which Rauschenberg began to use from 1964 onwards, was first employed in ‘Kip-Up' 1964 (repr. ibid., p.16 no.22). This entailed first making a photo-silkscreen from whatever photograph Rauschenberg wanted to incorporate in the composition: lithographic tusche could then be applied to the stone through the screen in order to create a facsimile of the original image. The advantage of this system was that it freed Rauschenberg from having to depend on being able to obtain the printers' plates for those images he wanted to use. Rauschenberg was exploring this technique around 1964-5 and it seems likely that he used it in the execution of the ‘Visitation' prints. In 1967, Rauschenberg developed a third way of transferring photographic images to the stone through placing magazine illustrations on the tusche-covered stone, brushing these with solvent and passing the stone through the press. Alternatively, the back of the solvent-soaked image could be rubbed with a pencil in order to obtain a transfer to the stone. This system allowed the transfer image to be fragmented into scribbled marks when a pencil was used, a method which also meant that different hand pressure could be employed in order to vary the tonal intensity of the resulting transfer. Also, when using either the press or a pencil, this method gave the photographic images a transparent quality because the half-tone of the originals was broken down by the solvent during transfer. The first print produced by the solvent method was ‘Drizzle' 1967 and this technique was also employed in the making of ‘Pledge' 1968 (see P77108). A fourth system which Rauschenberg innovated in 1969 and first used in the making of ‘Tides' 1969 (repr. Philadelphia exh. cat. 1970, p.22 no.45) involved coating the lithographic stone with a photo-sensitive emulsion and exposing this to the light-projected image of the original.

In both ‘Visitation I' and ‘Visitation II' the figurative elements are related to each other and are located within the total design through being linked by large gestural sweeps and pools of lithographic tusche. This has been applied in a variety of ways: by brush, by wiping with fabric and by finger; it has also been dripped and splashed onto the stone. The scribbled marks were made by lithographic crayon. This format is typical of the lithographs which Rauschenberg produced from ‘Urban' 1962 onwards in which numerous photographic images appear to emerge from highly-expressive and non-figurative tonal areas. The degree to which the figurative areas can be read varies and depends on how far they are obscured by the gestural marks, their tonal density and whether they appear singly or as visual events produced by the superimposition of one or more images. The range of imagery employed by Rauschenberg is drawn from modern life and culture. Recurrent themes include sports and sportsmen (in ‘Visitation II' the jockey and horse belong to this category), politicians and public figures, especially John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Fine Art (prints such as ‘Centennial Certificate M.M.A.' 1969 quote extensively from old master images), technology, especially space travel, and modern city architecture. Arranged in this apparently casual or random way, the imagery of the lithographs relates to what Lawrence Alloway has described as the ‘bulletin board principle of tacking up transient, vivid images' (Philadelphia exh. cat. 1970, introduction to catalogue, p.7). At the same time, the effect of this format is to produce a number of fleeting or partially perceived visual episodes which are not explicable individually but, when read collectively and in combination with the enveloping atmosphere of the tusche effects, are analogous to cognitive processes. It relates in particular to Rauschenberg's description of experiencing street life in a modern city: ‘all you saw was a general no-colour in which the tone stood out' (quoted in Colin Tomkins, The Bride and the Batchelors, New York 1965, pp. 200-201).

Although similar in their figurative aspects, ‘Visitation I' and ‘Visitation II' differ in other respects. ‘Visitation I' was printed from two stones, one inked in blue and one in black. The blue-inked stone produced the graph-paper pattern which is the dominant formal characteristic of this print. The other elements, namely the photographic areas and most of the gestural tusche effects in the bottom two thirds of the design, were printed from the second stone, inked in black, which was also used for ‘Visitation II'. These elements are thus present in both prints. ‘Visitation II' was also printed from two stones, but both were inked in black. In addition to that shared with ‘Visitation I', the second stone produced all the non-figurative marks at the top left of the print, the circular shape surrounding the face of the trumpet player, the large black splash of ink bottom left of centre and the three scribbled square shapes below the image of the domestic interior.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.447-8