Robert Rauschenberg (October 22, 1925 – May 12, 2008) was an American artist who came to prominence in the 1950s transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art. Rauschenberg is well-known for his "Combines" of the 1950s, in which non-traditional materials and objects were employed in innovative combinations. Rauschenberg was both a painter and a sculptor and the Combines are a combination of both, but he also worked with photography, printmaking, papermaking, and performance. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1993. Rauschenberg lived and worked in New York City as well as on Captiva Island, Florida until his death from heart failure on May 12, 2008.
Rauschenberg was born as Milton Ernest Rauschenberg in Port Arthur, Texas, the son of Dora and Ernest Rauschenberg. His father was of German and Cherokee ancestry and his mother of Anglo-Saxon descent. His parents were Fundamentalist Christians. Rauschenberg studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Académie Julian in Paris, France, where he met the painter Susan Weil. In 1948 Rauschenberg and Weil decided to attend Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Canyon (1959)Josef Albers originally of the Bauhaus school became Rauschenberg's painting instructor at Black Mountain. Albers' preliminary courses relied on strict discipline that did not allow for any "uninfluenced experimentation". Rauschenberg described Albers as influencing him to do "exactly the reverse" of what he was being taught. From 1949 to 1952 Rauschenberg studied with Vaclav Vytlacil and Morris Kantor at the Art Students League of New York, where he met fellow artists Knox Martin and Cy Twombly. Rauschenberg married Susan Weil in 1950. Their only child, Christopher, was born July 16, 1951. They divorced in 1953. According to a 1987 oral history by the composer Morton Feldman, after the end of his marriage, Rauschenberg had romantic relationships with fellow artists Cy Twombly and Jasper Johns. An article by Jonathan D. Katz states that Rauschenberg's affair with Twombly began during his marriage to Susan Weil. Rauschenberg died on May 12, 2008, on Captiva Island, Florida. He died of heart failure after a personal decision to go off life support,. Rauschenberg is survived by his partner of 25 years, artist Darryl Pottorf, his former assistant. Rauschenberg is also survived by his son, photographer Christopher Rauschenberg, and his sister, Janet Begneaud. Rauschenberg's will, filed in Probate Court on October 9, 2008, names his charitable foundation as a major beneficiary, along with Pottorf, Christopher Rauschenberg, Begneaud, his nephew Byron Richard Begneaud, and Susan Weil Kirschenbaum. The amounts to be given to the beneficiaries are not named, but the estate is "worth millions," said Pottorf, who is also executor of the estate. A memorial exhibition of photographs opened October 22, 2008, (on the occasion of what would have been his 83rd birthday) and closed November 5, 2008 at the Guggenheim Museum.