Robert Rauschenberg was born Milton Rauschenberg on October 22, 1925, in Port Arthur, Texas. He began to study pharmacology at the University of Texas at Austin before being drafted into the United States navy, where he served as a neuropsychiatric technician in the navy hospital corps in San Diego.
In 1947, he enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute and traveled to Paris to study at the Académie Julian the following year. In the fall of 1948, he returned to the United States to study under Josef Albers at Black Mountain College, near Asheville, North Carolina, which he continued to attend intermittently through 1952. While taking classes at the Art Students League, New York, from 1949 to 1951, Rauschenberg was offered his first solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery.
Some of the works from this period included blueprints, monochromatic white paintings, and black paintings. From the fall of 1952 to the spring of 1953, he traveled to Europe and North Africa with Cy Twombly, whom he had met at the Art Students League.
During his travels, Rauschenberg worked on a series of small collages, hanging assemblages, and small boxes filled with found elements, which he exhibited in Rome and Florence. Upon his return to New York in 1953, Rauschenberg completed his series of black paintings, using newspaper as the ground, and began work on sculptures created from wood, stones, and other materials found on the streets; paintings made with tissue paper, dirt, or gold leaf; and more conceptually oriented works such as Automobile Tire Print (1953) and Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953). By the end of 1953, he had begun his Red Painting series on canvases that incorporated newspapers, fabric, and found objects and evolved in 1954 into the Combines, a term Rauschenberg coined for his well-known works that integrated aspects of painting and sculpture and would often include such objects as a stuffed eagle or goat, street signs, or a quilt and pillow.
In late 1953, he met Jasper Johns, with whom he is considered the most influential of artists who reacted against Abstract Expressionism [more]. The two artists had neighboring studios, regularly exchanging ideas and discussing their work, until 1961.
Rauschenberg began to silkscreen paintings in 1962. He had his first career retrospective, organized by the Jewish Museum, New York, in 1963 and was awarded the Grand Prize for Painting at the 1964 Venice Biennale. He spent much of the remainder of the 1960s dedicated to more collaborative projects including printmaking, Performance [more], choreography, set design, and art-and-technology works.
In 1966, he cofounded Experiments in Art and Technology, an organization that sought to promote collaborations between artists and engineers. In 1970, Rauschenberg established a permanent residence and studio in Captiva, Florida, where he still lives. A retrospective organized by the National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C., traveled throughout the United States in 1976–78. Rauschenberg continued to travel widely, embarking on a number of collaborations with artisans and workshops abroad, which culminated in the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI) project from 1985 to 1991. In 1997, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, exhibited the largest retrospective of Rauschenberg’s work to date, which traveled to Houston and to Europe in 1998.