Friday, December 6, 2013

The Rauschenberg Residency on Captiva

Weeks Cottage at The Rauschenberg Residency on Captiva. L. to r: Oliver Bell, Mauro Cerqueira, Dawn DeDeaux, Sean Foley, and Andrew Rodes. Although each artist has their own living and work space, they share meals and have areas where they can talk about the latest. On the right wall, Robert Rauschenberg's Yellow Ranch, 1988.
Artists at Work:
The Rauschenberg Residency on Captiva

By Augustus Mayhew

At the same time Robert Rauschenberg's canvases and concepts explored a multi-dimensional shifting interplay of dynamic styles and inventive techniques, resulting in a revolutionary aesthetic mix, the legendary artist created an island refuge on the west coast of Florida where he combined a passion for innovation, preservation and conservation by introducing an immense state-of-the-art studio within an assemblage of wood-frame historical cottages set amid an existing timeless native landscape. Since his death in 2008, Rauschenberg's artworks have become the focus of collectors, curators, and auction houses, garnering the attention of critics and art historians. And yet, even with his vast spectrum of innumerable artworks held by the world's most prominent collections and museums, Rauschenberg's most notable legacy may actually rest with his largest canvas — his twenty-acre compound recently transformed into a residency program for artists "to facilitate experimentation and collaboration."

"The development of an artists' residency on the property where Robert Rauschenberg lived and worked for more than forty years is one of our major programs. The residency builds on this legacy of new ideas, new work and supporting generations of new artists," said Christy MacLear, executive director of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (RRF), formed in 1990. The RRF is headed by Rauschenberg's son Christopher Rauschenberg, the foundation's president and chairperson. The board of directors includes: Chuck Close, Susan Davidson, Sidney B. Felsen, Allan Fulkerson, Liz Glassman, Agnes Gund, Alex Herzan, Fredericka Hunter, Dorothy Lichtenstein, and Richard E. Oldenburg.
This photograph of Rauschenberg with his son, photographer Christopher Rauschenberg, is on the wall at Weeks Cottage. Top, Robert Rauschenberg and his parents. Above, Rauschenberg, his wife Susan Weil, and their son Christopher.
Artists with the Residency's initial pilot program left their autographs a studio wall.
Based as much on Rauschenberg's faith that "Art can change the world," as inspired by the artist's own collaborative experiences at Black Mountain College, the RRF launched a successful pilot program that was followed by scheduling six four-week sessions with eight to ten artists in each session. Artists from all disciplines—painters, photographers, writers, dancers, filmmakers — were selected anonymously. They were invited to participate in the program and awarded a stipend and living expenses during the term. The first session extends from October 27 to December 7. I recently had the pleasure of spending a few days at The Rauschenberg while the artists were in their fourth week of the session.

Here are my impressions, some of their works/projects/concepts/sketches/fragments/scenarios of works in progress, and a look-around at the sublime and the subliminal.
The enclave's more polished bayside entrance leads to Rauschenberg's ultra-modern Studio, Bay House resident apartments, and island cottages.
The Studio's bayside elevation overlooks the pool towards the east. The centerpiece for the upper stair landing is The Ancient Incident, a patina cast bronze work by Rauschenberg.
The Studio and the swimming pool.
The swimming pool.
Across Captiva Drive, a more secluded unspoiled path winds through native habitats around an array of vernacular cottages leading to Rauschenberg's Beach House and original Studio. "Bob had a VW Bug and he would drive back and forth from the Beach House to Captiva Drive, making this road that the staff would follow along staking out the twists and turns," said Ann Brady.
I walked the path several times, different times of day, amid the Australian pines, palms, sea grapes, and banyans, a treasure of Old Island hammock plantings.
The Beach House, facing the Gulf of Mexico.
From the Beach House, a spectacular view of the Gulf of Mexico, where on a clear day you can imagine Robert Rauschenberg could see Port Arthur, Texas, the place where he was born.
Back on the bay side, the residents and staff gather for a wine tasting at Weeks Cottage.
First Impressions

Although the Rauschenberg Residency's 20-acre sanctuary from the Fish House to the Beach House is divided by Captiva Drive, the separation heightens the awareness between the wilds of Old Captiva along the beachfront where Rauschenberg first lived and worked, and the newer, much more sophisticated bayfront, where the contemporary studio and apartments are sheltered by mangroves.
The Shed. As you round the corner on the bayside, this is the first building that comes into view.
The high-tech state-of-the-art Studio, west elevation.
The southwest corner of the main studio building structurally complements The Shed, containing the ceramic and welding studio.
The Studio, loading dock area.
Matt Hall, the Facilities Supervisor, who has worked at the Rauschenberg for 14 years, leads me up the monumental staircase.
From the top of the stairs, looking towards the loading area.
The Shed. Windows, side elevation.
When you step through the door at the top of the stairs, you enter the 8,000-square-foot area of what was Robert Rauschenberg's Studio. The glass doors open onto the bay side. Director Ann Brady's office is the door to the right of the doors.
The principal area, of what was Robert Rauschenberg's Studio, is currently being shared by Melissa Staiger and, at the far end, Dawn DeDeaux.
The Rauschenberg Studio. Dawn DeDeaux is at work with Carrell Courtright, one of the program's resident technical support staff.
Ann Brady, director of the Rauschenberg Residency, and artist Sean Foley.
Sean Foley
Visual artist

I've been making various pencil sketches, possible installations or paintings, some based on more classical paintings, battle scenes, and the like, transforming them into a more abstract form. — Sean Foley
Sean Foley.
Sketch, work in progress. Sean Foley. A recent large installation by Foley was described as "beyond figure and beyond abstraction into a kind of battle between wonder and the monstrous.
Sketch, work in progress. Sean Foley.
Sketch, work in progress. Sean Foley
Waldo Cottage
Waldo Cottage. Side elevation. On the bayside between the Studio and Weeks Cottage.
Waldo Cottage. Front entrance.
David Leggett
Mixed Media artist
"I'm up early here. I try to get to my studio by 8 am and leave around 7 pm. I like working here." Chicago mixed-media artist David Leggett.
"Let's talk Feminism," a sketch for a possible work. Having received his MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago, more recently, David attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. His work has been seen in solo exhibitions in Chicago galleries and group shows in New York.
"Please excuse the coffee stains. These are some studies of possible things I might want to do as paintings or more completed pieces."
"Hurry up and buy." Work in progress. David Leggett.
David Leggett. I had the pleasure of sitting across from David during the sushi lunch. I told him I thought his work was simply sensational!
"Afro Punk. I have high blood pressure." David Leggett, who attended the Savannah College of Art & Design from 2000 to 2003.
Photographer Laurie Lambrecht, at work for the RRF.
Standing center, Monica Marin, Residency coordinator, along with staff members Joshua Lewis and Laurie Lambrecht. Far right, George Bolster..
The Fish House
The Fish House. Originally built in 1942 by J.N. "Ding" Darling, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, Robert Rauschenberg bought it in 1978. For Rauschenberg, the Fish House was described as his "muse."
The Fish House. The Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge is named for Ding Darling.
From the Fish House balcony, a view of the beyond.
Passing by the Fish House, heading down the Pine Island Sound.
A view of the Studio and Bay House roofs, secluded by the shoreline mangroves.
Melissa Staiger
Visual artist

I am THANKFUL to the anonymous person who nominated me for an artist residency at the Robert Rauschenberg Residency on Captiva. — Melissa Staiger
Brooklyn-based Melissa Staiger is a non-objective painter. "Here I have time to work on possible paintings, make various studies in color and form."
Melissa Staiger. Work in progress.
Melissa Staiger. Works in progress. An MFA graduate from the Pratt Institute, NYC, Staiger's work is included in the Flat Files at the Janet Kurnatowski Gallery, Brooklyn.
Melissa Staiger's shell collection. Melissa and Athena LaTocha are sharing the cottage on the beach side where Rauschenberg curated his work.
Melissa's work tables, foreground, in the Rauschenberg Studio.
The Original Rauschenberg Studio
The path to the beachfront Studio.
Cultivating beauty along the windswept gulf coast.
Rauschenberg's original studio is steps from the beach on the gulf side.
The original Studio, west elevation.
At the original Studio, the crossed coconut palms caught my eye.
Steps leading up to the Studio where Ann Carlson, dancer/choreographer, has been at work.
Ann Carlson

I'm working on a performance piece that involves inter-species communication. — Ann Carlson
Ann Carlson works in Robert Rauschenberg's original beachside studio. Carlson's imaginative repertoire combines choreography, performance, theater, as well as conceptual art.
Ann was rehearsing when I stopped in, appearing to embody an elephant.
Work in progress by Ann Carlson.
The Dance Studio, a frame vernacular cottage on the gulf side.
Athena LaTocha
Visual artist

My images begin with my memory of Alaska—specifically the irony between vast, open spaces devoid of human contact and the impact of industrial development upon nature. Looking at tidal forces of nature and human interaction with the earth, my practice employs a system of abrupt actions and unwieldy tools. — Athena LaTocha
Athena LaTocha's studio is the garage space between the Beach House and Rauschenberg's original studio. Born in Anchorage, she "lives in Queens and works in Brooklyn." A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, she received her MFA from Stony Brook and for several years studied at the Art Students League.
Works in progress. Athena LaTocha.
Athena LaTocha at work on one of her abstracts on photo paper.
Work in progress, detail. Athena's work at the Rauschenberg Residency will be shown in Manhattan from 17-29 January 2014 at Gallery Sensei, 278 Grand Street.
Andrew Rodes
A New York-based screenwriter and author, Andrew Rodes is working on a "coming-of-age" novella and several short stories. Finding New Mexico too sedate, Andrew has settled in Manhattan where he finds the nightlife doesn't "roll-up at 9 o'clock like it did in Santa Fe."
Andrew Rodes . While at the New Mexico Film School, Andrew wrote "The Boston Post," a short film about a newspaper redefining its role in the 21st century. "Being here is a great gift," remarked Andrew.
Andrew Rodes.
Facing the sound, the Bay House provides both apartments above and studio spaces on the lower level where Mauro Cerqueira and Oliver Bell have spent the past several weeks working on various endeavors.
Mauro Cerqueira
Visual artist

I've been working on something made from objects I found in Ft. Myers. — Mauro Cerqueira.
Mauro Cerqueira. Mauro lives and works in Porto, Portugal, having a degree in Fine Arts from the Escuela Superior Artistica de Porto. During the past several years, he has had solo shows in Berlin, London, Madrid, and Lisbon.
Work in progress. Mauro Cerqueira.
Mauro has accumulated several shelves of objet trouvé during his stay on Captiva that may or may not find their way into one of his fascinating combines..
Oliver David Bell
Filmmaker/video artist

I got into working with moving imagery through filming my friends skateboard and make music. — Oliver David Bell
One of Oliver Bell's most recent videos featured his father, artist Larry Bell, "Larry Bell in Perspective," Carrere d'Art Musee Contemporain de Nimes. Bell lives in Taos and Venice Beach.
"I've been working on this series of watercolors."
Oliver Bell, at work.
"I've also been working on these silvery metallic objects." - Oliver Bell.
Oliver Bell.
Oliver Bell studies the wine aroma color chart during a winetasting for residents and staff held by a local vintner at Weeks Cottage.
Athena LaTocha samples a Merlot.
George Bolster
Visual artist

I've been able to almost complete a 17-minute film titled "Self-Erosion" while I've been here. — George Bolster
George Bolster, at work in his studio space at The Rauschenberg. Currently based in New York, George Bolster's installations, drawings, and sculptures have been widely-exhibited in his home country, Ireland, as well as London and Los Angeles.
An image from "Self Erosion," a work in progress by George Bolster.
George Bolster and Melissa Staiger heading from the dining room at Weeks Cottage back to their studios.
George Bolster.
At the Sushi Class & Lunch, Weeks Cottage
Mauro, George, Sean, and Melissa took a sushi class with a local chef. Voila! Lunch is ready.
Terri Schwab, third from left, is the cook and house coordinator; she leads a round of applause for Chef Teh, far right, sushi and sashimi master at the nearby Timbers Restaurant on Sanibel Island.
The chopsticks are at the ready in the dining porch at Weeks Cottage.
A savory sushi lunch with Singapore rice noodles..
Carrell Courtright, studio technician.
Weeks Cottage, the Residency's dining hall, kitchen, and function gathering place.
Dawn DeDeaux
Media artist

My work in Captiva is building components to join the work of my current show "Aboard the MotherShip: Postulations of Myth and Math," now on view at a museum in Mobile. The additional elements will be shown along with the existing one, opening June 2014 at a museum in Lafayette, Louisiana where Rauschenberg's sister lives and is a trustee of the museum. — Dawn DeDeaux.
Here on Captiva I place man in a world now radically changed, in a nostalgic longing for a 'nature' past, clearly an innocence lost. Hence the child-like motifs of flowers on my spacemen's camouflage protective suits. Other suits are realized with toile and other fabrics inspired by landscape Part One puts forth rather apocalyptic landscapes and mythic and mathematical predictions for a gloomy future. — Dawn DeDeaux at work in her studio space that was where Rauschenberg worked.
Artist Dawn DeDeaux holding a photograph of a local firefighter dressed in a Haz-Mat suit used as a model for her space-age protective suit.
A possible rendering of one of Dawn DeDeaux's spacemen suits adorned with daisies. Dawn DeDeaux's working rendering of a spaceman's daisy-covered protective suit.
Studio technician Joshua Lewis assists Dawn with the metallic scrap representing a disintegrating space ship that will be part of the installation.
Views of and from the Studio
The centerpiece. Robert Rauschenberg. The Ancient Incident. Patina cast bronze, 86 1/2 x 91 x 21 inches.
Twenty steps to the Studio.
The swimming pool.
A view to the northeast.
From the pool deck looking up to the Studio.
Robert Rauschenberg. The Ancient Incident. Patina cast bronze, detail.
Standing guard along the mangroves at the Rauschenberg Residency on Captiva.
Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008).

It had been thirty years since I last visited Captiva, before the post-Reagan era's tsunami-like mansion movement that has swept over the once remote far-flung island. While Sanibel Island has retained much of its natural setting, however much commercial development has mushroomed since my last visit. On Captiva, I stayed at the charming 'Tween Waters Inn, swarming with shore birds, that had the right mix of charm and convenience.
'Tween Waters Inn. Captiva.
'Tween Waters Inn, Captiva. Cottage.
My respect grew for bird photographers.
'Tween Waters Inn, beach front.
The Island Store, Captiva. Everything you'll ever need on the island. The Starbucks is in a plaza on the north side of The Rauschenberg.
Sunrise & Sunset on Sanibel Island
The Venusian and Martian tones of the Sanibel sunrise were enchanting. Note, flocks of shellers hit the beach well before dawn.
Sanibel sunrise, best described by J. G. Ballard's sci-fi scenarios..
Now the shellers can get back to shelling.
Another new day on Sanibel Island.
Sanibel Refuge
Sunset on Sanibel Island
Moments before the sunset.
Sundowners, the Sanibel style.
Sanibel sunset.
Sunset for the birds.
Nightfall on Sanibel Island, time for the no-see-ums and the bug spray.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.

Augustus Mayhew is the author of Lost in Wonderland – Reflections on Palm Beach.