By Emily Horn, DOMA Intern


Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, 1980.

Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns are considered by many to be two of the most influential American artists due to their radical blending of materials and methods. The two of them were a crucial figure in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to later modern movements.

Robert Rauschenberg followed his parents’ wishes and attended the University of Texas to study pharmacology, but was expelled after refusing to dissect a frog. The draft letter that arrived in 1943 saved him from breaking the disappointing news to his parents. Refusing to kill on the battlefield, he was assigned as a medical technician in the Navy Hospital Corps and stationed at a hospital caring for combat survivors in San Diego. While on breaks, he saw oil paintings in person for the first time at the Huntington Art Gallery in California. After the war ended Rauschenberg used the G.I. Bill to pay for art classes at Kansas State University in 1947.


Robert Rauschenberg and Darryl Pottorf. Philharmonic Center For The Arts1997. David Owsley Museum of Art. 2000.011.000 © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

Jasper Johns knew from an early age he wanted to be an artist. Before moving to New York in the early 1950s, he studied for a brief period at the University of South Carolina. Urged by his professors to study in New York, he moved north and spent one semester at the Parsons School of Design in 1948. However, Parsons was not the ideal fit for Johns, and he left the school, rendering him eligible for the draft. In 1951, he was drafted into the army and spent two years in the service during the Korean War.

Rauschenberg and Johns met at a party in 1953 and after several months of friendship, the two became romantic and artistic partners from 1954 to 1961. In 1955, the two artists had neighboring studio spaces, and became the main audience for each other’s work. Though their styles were initially too different to form a truly coherent movement, Rauschenberg described their artistic relationship as giving “permission to do what we wanted.”