Contextual focus point: –  Erased De Kooning

In 1953, Robert Rauschenberg asked Willem De Kooning for one of his drawings. Amazingly, he agreed. Rauschenberg then proceeded to rub out De Kooning’s drawing and exhibit the resulting near blank sheet. This is such a beautiful moment in art history as it brings together the mood of the time and the lasting legacy of both Abstract Expressionism and what would later become post modernism.

Find a reproduction of this drawing on the web and make notes on how you feel about it at first sight.

Then look a little into the background and try to get an understanding of why Rauschenberg might have done this.

There are video interviews online with both artists. Use Google to find the videos and make notes on your thoughts about what happened.

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Erased de Kooning
Fig 1. Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953)
orig enhanced
Fig 2. Digitally enhanced infrared scan of Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing, (1953)

Eventually Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Kooning Drawing” has been hailed as a landmark of postmodernism because of its subversive appropriation of another artist’s work, and it has also been understood as a rejection of the traditional practice of drawing as the foundation of painting.Alongside the detail from the erased drawing shows some of the original marks.  A valuable piece of art from the most renowned Abstract Expressionist artist in America and possible the world at the time had been rendered valueless, or had it.  This ironic statement after a slow start took the art world by storm.

De Kooning when approached by Rauschenberg fully bought into the process and discarded several drawings before giving one to Rauschenberg commenting “ it has to be one I’ll miss”.

Later Rauschenberg did not fully recall what the donated image was!.  However, above there is an enhanced image using techniques to ascertain the original image.

However, the resulting image reveals a field of marks that is far from a finished drawing or even a focused study. Instead we see de Kooning at work, in process, thinking with his pencil and charcoal. Multiple figures fill the sheet, oriented in two directions. The female figure at lower left is likely related to the Woman series, with which de Kooning was deeply involved from 1950 to 1955.

My first impression of this work is that a second rate artist (at the time) tried for instant fame by latching onto the fame of a more renowned artist.  Whilst this may be true it is not the complete picture of the underlying thoughts and feelings of the artists and the art world at the time.

Rauschenberg set out to discover whether an artwork could be produced entirely through erasure—an act focused on the removal of marks rather than their accumulation.  De Kooning didn’t make it easy for him to erase rather than donate a pencil drawing he handed over a “drawing made using ink and crayon on paper”.

“In the midst of an experimental period during which he made paintings from such materials as gold leaf, toilet paper and dirt, Rauschenberg asked himself whether a drawing might be made from erasing.  Having experimented with erasure of his own works he decided that the erasing was then half the piece as he had produced the first half [the drawing] before the second part [the erasing] was done.

Erased de Kooning - detail
Fig 3. Erased de Kooning – detail (1953)

Like the riddle “ what gets bigger the more you take away from it” ….. , Rauschenberg wanted to make something by erasing.  To be viewed as an artwork in its own right he determined that the erased piece should have a value in its own right.  Oh! The answer to the riddle …” A hole gets bigger the more that is taken away!”

Rauschenberg was looking at a process of subtraction from something rather than a normal artistic process of addition to create an artwork.  He had first tried this minimalist approach in his series of ‘White Painting”.  These are a series of paintings of a pure white painted canvas.  He wanted it to look untouched by human hands but would be influenced by its surroundings.  The matt white reflects from its surroundings.  Rauschenberg later noted that these paintings were like a clock and if examined extremely closely they would indicate the time of day and room surroundings.

Rauschenberg had a great interest in drawing and wanted to extend his ‘white painting’ concepts into drawing.  He tried by erasing his own drawing before he derived at the idea that an artwork had to be erased.  He did this with a drawing from de Kooning.  He called the erased drawing a “monochrome – no image”.

Both Rauschenberg and de Kooning must have been very surprised over time as the initial concept took hold and is now noted as a landmark moment in art history and development.

Fig 4. White Painting [seven panel] (1951)

List of Illustrations   


Fig 1. Rauschenberg,  Robert (1953). Erased de Kooning Drawing. [paper]. At:  (Accessed on 7 Nov17)

Fig 2. Rauschenberg,  Robert (2010. Digitally enhanced infrared scan of Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953,[ Infrared scan]’ At:  (Accessed on 7 Nov17)

Fig 3. Rauschenberg, Robert (1953). Erased de Kooning Drawing (detail). [paper]. At:  (Accessed on 7 Nov17)

Fig 4. Rauschenberg, Robert. (1951). White Painting [seven panel]. [oil on canvas]  At:


SFMOMA. (2017). Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting [three panel], 1951. [online] At:  (Accessed on 7 Nov17)

Nasher Duke Edu (2017). White Painting  [online]  At: on 7 Nov17)

Cain, A. (2018). Why Robert Rauschenberg Erased a De Kooning. [online] Artsy. At: [Accessed on 7 Nov17].


Contextual focus point: –  Stephen Marshall

The artist Stephen Marshall has an exuberant and creative studio practice. In this exhibition of his work he has installed his drawings in a way which seems to retain some of the fluidity and opportunity for a kind of dialogue between the drawings themselves that is often lost when work is transferred out of the studio and into a gallery.

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There is no direction as to undertake research etc on the artist Stephen Marshall. The actual website noted in the coursework is now out of use and is ‘FORBIDDEN’ to be seen when searched.  I did however, find info at Saatchi Galleries website on the artist – Stephen Marshall. 

Owain Gyda Stephen Gwaedu Sych (both paintings + grass)
Fig 1. Owain Gyda Stephen Gwaedu Sych (nd)

Extract from profile. (Saatchi Art Online Galleries, (2017))

the dead sea the cool mist hikers getting hit by lightning” My practice is concerned with the difficulties and relationships of authenticity and identity. My work includes video and writing, whilst being primarily orientated around painting and the concepts of ‘the painter’. I am interested in the intertextual relationships between the historical weight and act of painting together with meta-histories and physical action, co existing and inhabiting a space. Welsh histories are explored within dispersed scenarios and a disjointed nonlinear narrative. Figures struggle with the witnessing, understanding and reinterpreting of gestures and experience. The false but familiar substitute landscapes create a gestalt of personal paradise and understanding; the creation of an autobiographical, fictional theatre of context or roman a clef. Aesthetically I am concerned with failure, night time colours and inviting chance. I am excited by non-painting and a recyclable disposability. Time is spent with points of emptiness, large black fields and plays on obvious metaphorical motifs, with echoes of good and bad painting cooperating towards some sort of balance.”

Holy Well Tents
Fig 2. Holy Well Tents (nd)

List of Illustrations   

Fig 1. Marshall, Stephen– (nd) Owain Gyda Stephen Gwaedu Sych [both paintings + grass]. [online] At:  (Accessed on 7 Nov17)

Fig 2. Marshall, Stephen– (nd) Holy Well Tents [-][online] At:  (Accessed on 7 Nov17)


Saatchi Art Online Galleries, (2017). Stephen Marshall – Artist [online] Available at:  (Accessed on 7 Nov17)