Association of Art Historians Annual Conference

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


In 1958 Robert Rauschenberg began to re-engage with a method of drawing that he had discovered several years earlier: solvent transfer. This technique involved soaking magazine and newspaper images in lighter fluid and rubbing them on their backs with an old ballpoint pen to produce a reversed, flickering, striated residue. The method allowed Rauschenberg to align drawing with photography, enabling him to detach fragments from mass media flows and reintegrate them into new aesthetic and referential systems. The transfers offer an ‘extract of corporeality,’ to borrow Benjamin Buchloh’s phrase, powerfully material and bodily but shorn of expressivity. This paper focuses upon the most celebrated result of Rauschenberg’s experiments: his Thirty-Four Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno (1958-60). Here Dante’s Pilgrim becomes a contemporary Everyman, a towel-clad figure derived from a golf club advertisement, who stands against a gridded backdrop resembling Muybridge’s measurement walls. Indeed, Rauschenberg also included chornophotographic images in the Combines that he made during this period, and the figuring of various forms of movement and stasis was of central concern throughout his practice. Dante’s Hell is a space of absolute constraint, however: the punishments inflicted upon the sinners are unchanging and neverending. This paper explores the relationship between mobility and improvisation, on the one hand, in Rauschenberg’s work, and a kind of agitated stuckness on the other. It proposes that the solvent transfer method bears upon contemporary conditions as much through the nature of its facture as by way of the imagery that Rauschenberg selected to illustrate Hell.
Period6 Apr 2017
Event typeConference
LocationLoughborough, United Kingdom


  • Rauschenberg
  • Drawing
  • Chronophotography
  • Dante