There is nothing like sneaking things in at the last minute. The Robert Rauschenberg retrospective exhibition at Tate Modern ends on 2 April. If you’re reading this too late, I apologise – go and look up the catalogue which is a hefty almost two inch thick book jam packed with writings and images. (link here)

But, if you can, get yourself to Tate Modern this weekend to see the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective. Eleven rooms filled with work spanning almost fifty years.

Art work entitled 'Ace, 1962' by US artist Robert Rauschenberg during a press preview at the Tate Modern in London

Photo credit: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

What struck me most as we walked through was the sheer energy and exhilaration. You never knew what would be waiting in the next room – this man never stopped! He collaborated with dancers, with musicians, he used dirt and found materials. He turned comic books into paintings which were dismissed as irrelevance. He added found objects: socks, ties, window fans, bits of wood, a brightly painted quilt…

And just as you are getting used to this approach of using objects for their own sake rather than representation, we have a room full of the most beautiful, delicate and almost fragile drawings using transfers and quiet subtle colours. Except the whole series is based around Dante’s Inferno and the tiny figures taken from contemporary news images are highly political.

Rauschenberg Canto XIV Dante transfer drawings

Canto XIV: Circle Seven, Round 3, The Violent Against God, Nature, and Art, from the series Thirty-Four Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno


There is a strong sense of the era in which he was creating – JF Kennedy crops up repeatedly. Space travel, references to the Vietnam war and later the restraint upon citizens of China, our position within a consumer world all make their mark.

This is a hugely visual collection of work from an artist who didn’t restrict himself to any particular medium or approach. It also feels like work full of thoughtful consideration – a lifetime of opinions. It bristles with energy that never lets up. There is a record of a performance piece involving (from memory) roller skates, three dancers in wedding dresses, parachutes…. It seems a little out of context to me until I feel it is simply a lively reaction to what is possible.

No point in asking ‘why’ when the obvious answer is simply “why ever not?”

He seemed to move through relationships just as quickly. In 1949 he marries Susan Weil and they have a son, by 1951 he is in a relationship with the artist Cy Twombly and then another art contemporary Jasper Johns. At the time of the Pelican performance piece in 1963 he is living with the dancer Steve Paxton who talked about the idea of incorporating everyday action into dance “We began with this idea of Bob’s that you work with what’s available, and that way the restrictions aren’t limitations, they’re just what you happen to be working with.”

What did I take from it?

Think – take ideas from everywhere, it’s all valid. Don’t think – don’t be obsessed by proper materials or delicacies.

Be aware of your surroundings – use whatever you can. There is no limit. Don’t be precious. Some paintings were completed on stage and stopped when the alarm clock integrated into the canvas went off! Have fun!

Testing. From the early days he sets out to question what the role of art is. Is it new art if I just erase an existing drawing by Willem de Kooning, a process which took many hours and over 40 erasers?

Can I investigate the role of chance by creating two almost identical paintings simultaneously? 

Robert Rauschenberg Factum1 and 2

Left: Robert Rauschenberg. Factum I. 1957. Combine: oil, ink, pencil, crayon, paper, fabric, newspaper, printed reproductions, and printed paper on canvas, 61 1/2 x 35 3/4 in. (156.2 x 90.8 cm). The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The Panza Collection; Right: Robert Rauschenberg. Factum II. 1957. Combine: oil, ink, pencil, crayon, paper, fabric, newspaper, printed reproductions, and painted paper on canvas, 61 3/8 x 35 1/2 in. (155.9 x 90.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase and an anonymous gift and Louise Reinhardt Smith Bequest (both by exchange). All works © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation


It seems his work moved in clear ‘batches’ as he leaps in steady jumps from clue to clue. Almost scientific in approach by following the leads he has already uncovered; so, I’ve done these large brightly coloured ‘funfair’ paintings and combines, what happens if I now create 34 relatively small drawings with very limited colour – what are you looking at now?! 

If you’ve ever felt as an artist that you have to have a ‘style’ this blows it out of the water!

However there is a thread and an evolution. By the end of his life, his work using silkscreened images is refined further and the last pieces combine photographs from his own collection. It feels like a cinecamera on quick rewind – quick glimpses of the world, flash backs and always on the move. Isn’t that how we now see things? 




12,000 people apply to the Royal Academy summer exhibition each year. They limit the applications and the limit is often reached much earlier than the deadline so you have to be on your toes!

Back in January I chose two paintings I had recently completed, filled out the online submission and tried to work out all the terms and conditions. In the meantime life carries on as normal, work is on the website and someone chose one of the paintings as a birthday gift for her husband. I did mention I had entered it, but I was just happy she was excited about finding him something original and surprising. You know how hard it can be buying for the man who has everything!

The day before the Talented Art Fair, when I was eye deep in packing and labels I was reminded to log-on and check the results – and was super excited to see that BOTH paintings had been shortlisted. Thrilling news – now I just needed to work out what to do about that sold one – presumably it was easy enough to contact the Royal Academy and change the sales status to Not For Sale?

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

However another artist warned me I had made a silly error – you can’t mess the RA around, and indeed I couldn’t find any information within their terms and conditions or by searching online about what to do if you have submitted to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and the painting has already been sold…

Surely I couldn’t be the first artist to, deep breath, actually have the nerve to sell their own work!

So, slightly heart in mouth I contacted the RA to ask if it was possible to amend the details, and the buyer to give them the good news about the shortlist. I felt it was cheeky to ask for the work back, after all, it belongs to them now. But, then again – the chance to see something you own hanging in the Royal Academy? Surely it was up to them to decide.

I was genuinely happy either way.

And you know what? The RA can change details if they know swiftly and the buyer was thrilled at the news and totally happy to see what happens next with the submission. So if you’re an artist in a similar situation I hope this helps!

‘Unearthed’ is the SOLD painting, but it is also available as a print in different sizes >> see here

‘Chasing the Window Seat‘ is the other painting which has been shortlisted. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

art at home Alice Sheridan



I find working on more than one painting at once helpful for a few things:

• it stops me becoming obsessive and overworking one endlessly (hopefully)
• it helps me to see an overall view of my work and how it’s developing
• working on one painting can often inform another – if you do something new or exciting, then you can learn from that and it may help you take risks on others.

Spotting differences…

I’m also very aware that I want each painting to be unique. There be a cohesiveness to a group of work, but each painting must stand alone. My biggest fear as an artist is becoming formulaic. I am developing a preferred way of working and we each have our own personal sensitivity we respond, but each painting moves with its own personality.

As I’m working I need to be aware of how that’s developing and ‘listen’ to what the painting is trying to say. This can mean time spent in the ‘thinking chair’ and I also keep a studio journal of notes. This is useful, particularly if a painting is stuck and I don’t know where to go next but it also helps me to identify what I am picking up within each painting, and what I may want to hide or develop…

I thought you may like to see some of my thoughts as I started work one day which I shared live on my Facebook page, which should play directly below:

So I’m looking out for what may have arrived by chance and guiding those discoveries into a painting which works. Informed intuition if you like. Keep in touch if you would like to see how these paintings ended up, they will be shown at the Talented Art Fair in 17-19 March 2017 and information about them will go out first to those on my mailing list.

To catch more live video and join in the conversation you can find my Facebook page here or see this video on FB by clicking the image below: