Posters for a Better World

A friend and I went to the opening reception this afternoon for the exhibit “Robert Rauschenberg, Artist-Citizen: Posters for a Better World” at the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur, Texas. The collection of posters created by the artist is on loan from the Smithsonian for a 10-week exhibition in the museum, which is located in Bob Rauschenberg’s hometown.

Mary Lynn Kotz, Rauschenberg’s biographer, gave a very detailed (kind of long-winded) talk and slide presentation on the life and works of the painter, sculptor and graphic artist, now 80 years old. It was a rather interesting discussion nonetheless about someone who has been able for many years to take the most common of objects and turn them into compelling art.

The posters included a number that he made for various events and causes ranging from the first Earth Day to posters for NASA.

I guess what has always attracted me to Rauschenberg’s work is the sense of whimsy in so many of his collages, or combines as he calls them. I did notice early on that he used a lot of chickens in his work. What I did not know until listening to Kotz was that chickens were part of his childhood in Port Arthur and he often uses objects of significance in his life as a recurring theme in his work.

It also is interesting to think about such a heavy-hitter in the art world as Rauschenberg, as well as the legendary blues-rock goddess Janis Joplin, both hailing from Port Arthur. I may be wrong but I feel Rauschenberg, while he got the hell out of Dodge while the getting was good, does not seem bitter about his youth spent in Port Arthur as Janis Joplin did. Then again, Janis had some various issues. We all do. I still loved her and will never forget her returning as a big star to Port Arthur for her high school reunion. I remember seeing her on the local TV news in her finest Pearl duds. Man, did she shake some cobwebs loose in that part of the area when she returned home. Janis’ psychedelic convertable is also at the musuem.

Looking at the work of a legendary artist and thinking about the work of another (Janis) is not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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