In 1999, Menil Collection curator Walter Hopps and SFMOMA Director David A. Ross interviewed Rauschenberg in the SFMOMA galleries during an exhibition featuring fourteen major works by the artist that the museum had recently acquired. Hopps had organized the 1976 and 1998 retrospectives of Rauschenberg’s work. In this excerpt from the video footage, Rauschenberg recounts the making of Automobile Tire Print (1953). Gary Garrels, then SFMOMA’s chief curator, and Peter Samis, then associate curator of education, also participate in the interview. A transcript of the full interview is available on the Related Information page. A transcript of this excerpt is available below.
Robert Rauschenberg discusses Automobile Tire Print at SFMOMA, May 6, 1999
Excerpt from Robert Rauschenberg, video interview by David A. Ross, Walter Hopps, Gary Garrels, and Peter Samis, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, May 6, 1999. Unpublished transcript at the SFMOMA Research Library and Archives, N 6537 .R27 A35 1999a.
ROSS: Well, let’s—let’s talk about that a bit. Because the— the—the hundred-foot— the Tire Print is also a work on paper made with a rubber. In this case, a rubber tire instead of a rubber eraser. And the image of this—of this ex—of this very simple set of lines, maybe a musical score.
RAUSCHENBERG: I think of it as a Tibetan prayer wheel.
ROSS: Yeah? When I looked at it set up this way, I also thought it looked like a Torah. [Rauschenberg laughs] But can you talk a bit about the process of making this itself? It—It seems—
RAUSCHENBERG: Yeah, I was living on—I—I was living on—on Fulton Street. And—I hadn’t gotten into making prints yet. But Fulton Street is almost empty of—of any kind of traffic on the weekends. So I got some typewriter paper. And glued ’em all together with, you know, like that stuff you have in—in school, that you eat.
ROSS: The mucilage, yeah. [Rauschenberg laughs]
RAUSCHENBERG : And— and glued them all together. And this is how many sheets came in—I think it’s about 20 feet, actually—came—came to be. And then I called John, and—and asked him, you know, like if he could come down on the—on the—on the weekend. And had some black house paint, which is what I was working with, [from] the paint store across the street. And—And he drove down in his Model A. And—Which I had met—both John and the Model A—in—in Black Mountain College. And I just poured the paint on the—[It] rained. And the— the— the— the paste didn’t really hold up too well. You know. I salvaged it all. But at any rate, it didn’t have to rain. And so I poured it, and I told John to really—I mean, I—I poured it in—in front, and told him to drive just as straight as he could. You know, “Be careful,” I said, “Keep going straight,” you know? And— and John was fascinated by the fact that we were doing this. And he did a good job. And—
ROSS: Well, he was the printer in this project.
RAUSCHENBERG: Hm? He was—he was the printer. And the press.
ROSS: Uh-huh. [they laugh]
ROSS: But it’s— it’s—it’s—but the piece also becomes a performance work, a document of a—of a—of a collaborative performance because…
ROSS: …what you set up was much more than a printing process. It really was a—a—a kind of collaboration. And collaborations have always been very important to you, for—[inaudible; Rauschenberg over Ross]
RAUSCHENBERG: Oh, I love—I love— I collaborating, because art can be a really lonely business, if you’re really just working from your ego.
RAUSCHENBERG: And— Or your style. It’s the same thing. And—When you have two people thinking at the same time about a single outcome, or object, well then, it’s just like—it’s multiplied and mirrored back and forth, ’til—’til it becomes, you know, like—like a whole group of—of brains and feelings and solutions. And that—that— that’s why I like collaborating.
ROSS: It also seems that collaborating has been a way of you breaking the boundaries between media. You’ve never seemed comfortable being defined by any set of traditional art making practices. You always want to change it, to break it through, to do something else, to be kind of creatively dissatisfied with whatever processes you’ve come across. And maybe collaboration has been one way around that for you?
CREW: If I could collaborate with you and ask you to think about that question while I change batteries.
RAUSCHENBERG: Change mine while—
[file stops, re-starts; inaudible voice]
ROSS: Want some water, Bob?
SAMIS: Were the paintings already attached at that time? Or did you attach them later?
RAUSCHENBERG: No, I—I glued ’em all together first.
SAMIS: Yeah, yeah.
GARY GARRELS: And it only took one try?
RAUSCHENBERG: Yep. [inaudible voices] John was really quite straight ahead, wasn’t he?
[inaudible voices; file stops, re-starts]
ROSS: Let’s—let’s—Are we rolling?
CREW: We’re rolling.
ROSS: Great. Can we talk for a second about Black Mountain?
ROSS: And what—what that meant to you.
CREW: Oh, I can’t—
ROSS: Whether that— whether the experience of Black Mountain continues to be—have a meaningful place in— in—in your—in your creative life. Or is it just a set of memories about kind of your well-spent youth?
RAUSCHENBERG: That’s a hard question to answer. Because I don’t know how to separate that. You know. Whether—I mean, you know, I—I—I’m not obsessed by it. And—And it’s—it’s certainly not simply a bunch of memories. But experiences are still sort of standards. Like buoys or something, where you know where things are.
RAUSCHENBERG: And I mean, Albers was the best teacher that I ever had. Simply because we had, revoltingly, nothing in common.
ROSS: Mm-hm. What was expected—
RAUSCHENBERG: And so he sped up of the process of my finding out who I was. And—But I also remember Bimbus, who was the music teacher. And Madame Yalowitz, and—who was a voice teacher, and—and the kinds of things that we did.
ROSS: So your intermedia activities, your—your—your love of working across the boundaries of traditional art making media, comes out of that experience, in many ways, doesn’t it?
RAUSCHENBERG: I don’t know if it was—I—I think it was always going to be there.
ROSS: I mean, from your youth in Texas, it was there?
ROSS: Engaging with music and dance—
RAUSCHENBERG: It was called impatience there. And then I dressed it up to curiosity. [laughs]
ROSS: Well, that’s a nice evolution, from impatience to curiosity. And then maybe you can just stay with curiosity for your whole life.
RAUSCHENBERG: It hasn’t left me yet. In fact, that— that—that—that’s the—I was asked, at a kind of a seminar thing with— addressing a bunch of— of painters and artists and poets and dancers and— and they—they said, “Well, what advice would—would you give to an artist today?” And I said, “Nurture your curiosity.” And fortunately, that was the last question. And that—It just—it— it just rang in the air.
ROSS: That’s perfect. Let me ask you to respond to some—Maybe we can—It’s sort of like a little bit of a word game, but I’d love you to just give me a—first responses to some—the names of some of the—of the men and women you’ve collaborated with over the years, extraordinary friends and artists, each of them. But let’s—Cy Twombly. Let’s look at this photograph here of Cy on the—on the Spanish Steps.
RAUSCHENBERG: Well, I don’t consider that a collaboration; he’s just a model there.
RAUSCHENBERG: But we never worked together. So—But most of—Like, the most obvious collaborations have been with Merce Cunningham and—and— and— and John Cage, and Paul Taylor, and now Trisha Brown.
RAUSCHENBERG: And with the Judson group, where we all were collaborating with each other.
ROSS: So your collaborations will always be, then, with musi—with musicians, composers, dancers, not with other painters or sculptors.
RAUSCHENBERG: No, actually, we have—we have the Quattro Mani that I did with—that—that’s an ongoing thing, with Darryl Pottorf. And that means four hands. And we work on the same piece. And—But I consider printmaking a collaboration.
ROSS: Of course.
RAUSCHENBERG: And…I just don’t think that— that— that I’m comfortable—But I do it all the time. I was gonna say that, but it’s not true. Like, I mean, I can work by myself, too.
RAUSCHENBERG: And— and love it. And—
ROSS: So it’s another way of mixing it up, of just [inaudible].
RAUSCHENBERG: It’s not cutting yourself off.