Andy Warhol might have dabbled in almost every medium, but the legendary Robert Rauschenberg created some of the most iconic works of the 20th century by brilliantly combining painting, sculpture, photography, and printmaking. Rauschenberg used found images from newspapers and magazines to create an entirely new art method, called the transfer process. This technique inspires artists even now. One artist we recently discovered who employs the transfer in his own unique way is Aydin Hamami, an American artist based in California.
Hamami has recently begun a new series of works on paper while he isolates during the coronavirus pandemic. One of these is, Be A Hero, Smoke Pall Malls! (Quarantine Drawing, No. 1), a really beautiful collage that shows off not only Hamami’s keen skill at combining just the right elements to create emotion, energy, and movement but also his sense of humor in the title. His use of color is equally sophisticated. Here, he creates depth by using darker colors in the background and then applies a lovely blue in the foreground. The result is a fabulous composition of light and dark, hard and soft and positive and negative.
Rauschenberg is quoted as saying, “I want to work in the gap between art and life.” His work explored this theme often, in his “combines,” a term Rauschenberg invented to describe a series of works that combine aspects of painting and sculpture. One example of this is Bed, from 1955. Taking discarded everyday items, a quilt, a pillow, and a sheet. Framing them (as if they were a canvas) and then scribbling and dripping paint onto them (his nod to Abstract Expressionism).
Another aspect of Rauschenberg’s work was experimenting with “transfers” a process of taking printed images, primarily from newspapers and magazines, placing them face down on sheets of paper, and then rubbing the backs of the images with an empty ballpoint pen or another burnishing device to transfer the original to the paper. He then created dimension by painting, drawing and scribbling over the transferred images.
One of my favorite examples of this technique is Yellow Body, from 1968. Rauschenberg first experimented with this technique on a trip to Cuba in 1952. In Yellow Body, he transfers among other things, newspaper clippings, as well as an image of Janis Joplin, who like Rauschenberg, was also a native of Port Arthur, Texas, and whom he met in 1968 at Max’s Kansas City, the legendary New York City music venue.
The transfer process continues to be an inspiration for artists well into the 21st century. Aydin Hamami’s bold mixed media works embody many of Rauschenberg’s sensibilities. He layers imagery, scribbles and drips paint. And similar to Rauschenberg who dripped and splattered paint in homage to the Abstract Expressionists, Hamami applies areas of spray paint as a nod to street art, which has become part of the fine art canon. His piece, Ikebukuro Hustle, no. 7, embodies all of these aesthetics.
Created while working at a university in Tokyo, Hamami transfers images from Japanese comics, and he draws and scribbles and drips paint. The composition conveys the energy and duality of this Tokyo red-light neighborhood.
His painting, Tantalus No. 3, is a visually stimulating composition of transfer, spray paint and drips and brushes of paint. The overall effect is somewhere between design and art. Collaging images and elements can be challenging if not done well, but Hamami has a sophisticated eye for putting together color, shapes, and patterns.
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