The act of drawing is an act of excavation. In the rapid, inspired gestures of Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008), the solemn, poetic aura of Gerhard Richter (b. 1932), and the measured articulations of British artist, Lucy Skaer (b. 1975), each of these artists manipulate found imagery to find their own balance between mark and meaning. Rauschenberg’s A-Muse (1958), Richter’s Untitled (Chair) (1963), and Skaer’s 08.04.13 - 22.04.13 (2013) are knots on the same continuous thread, a shared interest in the intelligibility of an image affected by solvent transfer and interference methods. The accidental arrival of these three works to the gallery at the same time suggested that both the individual story behind each was worth uncovering, as well as exploring the shared methods that would seem to connect them.
By using original photographic sources from the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and LIFE (Rauschenberg); Italian architecture and design magazine, Domus (Richter), and the Guardian (UK edition) (Skaer), all three artists use discursive, referential content to express their interest in authorship, the visual boundaries of the picture plane, and the ever-expanding pervasiveness and mutability of mass media forms. The developments and debates of the world contemporary to each artist are encoded within each illustrative register, and therefore these images transcend mere abstraction or formal exercise. Rauschenberg, Richter, and Skaer alike make marks that speed, splinter, surge, augment, flood in with certain pictorial meaning, or flicker within the tension of its absence.
RAUSCHENBERG first hit upon the transfer technique in 1952 while on a trip to Cuba, but it was not until 1958—the year he made this work—that he began a concentrated exploration of the process. The artist would produce twenty-six such drawings in 1958, six of which form the beginning of his famed “Cantos,” the thirty-four drawings made over three years (1958–60), one for each of the Cantos comprising Dante’s Inferno, the great allegory of spiritual rebirth . Of the twenty other drawings from 1958, only six are as large as A-Muse .
To make each drawing, Rauschenberg sourced printed images, primarily from newspapers and magazines, soaked them in a solvent (turpentine, lighter fluid), placed them face down on a paper, and rubbed them with an empty ballpoint pen to transfer the reversed image to a new sheet. Just as solvent loosens the bond of ink and page, “so the act of temporal, spatial and referential displacement nuances the chosen image from its original designations” . As in his interpretation of Dante, Rauschenberg’s resulting transfers are striated residues of their originals, worked over with watercolor washes and accents of color and line to reconstruct the photographic image and reevaluate its status and visual language.
There is no firm evidence that RICHTER saw Rauschenberg’s transfer drawings in the early 1960s. In this period of his youth Richter travelled moderately, but he did not permanently leave the GDR until 1961, and would therefore have been too late to see Rauschenberg’s first solo show in Germany at Galerie 22 in Düsseldorf (1960), which featured a selection of solvent transfer works . Richter did tour West Germany in 1959, including a stop in Kassel for the second iteration of Documenta (11 July – 11 October 1959), where Rauschenberg exhibited three Combines: Bed (1955), Thaw (1958), and Kickback (1959). Though such timing led him to miss the Galerie 22 show, his fellow classmate, Konrad Fischer-Lueg did not. Lueg used the solvent transfer technique in many of his own works and it is suspected that Richter learned the technique from him. Affirming this transfer of knowledge, Dr. Dietmar Elger, Head of the Gerhard Richter Archive cites a 1963 letter penned by Richter, in which the artist describes his ‘new quirk’ at the time—cutting up pictures from magazines, softening the printing inks with solvent, and smudging up the original image .
Untitled (Chair) has two discrete details, both of which were sourced from the November 1956 issue of Domus (p. 32 and 38): the top detail, which is thoroughly obfuscated, and the bottom detail, which presents a chair. The image sourced for the top detail illustrates the award-winning faenza works (‘faience,’ fine tin-glazed pottery) from the 1956 XIV National Ceramic Competition in Faenza, Italy. But just as the ‘KING,’ emblazoned across the top of Rauschenberg’s Kickback slips behind the rest of the Combine’s surface, the top detail of Untitled (Chair) articulates itself only as it recedes from view, as the solvent dissolves the original image to push the ink beyond its edge and the page beneath. The bottom detail is treated similarly; though the basic physical structure of the chair remains clear, it resides within a blur of the image’s own substance.
Richter’s contributions to contemporary picture making in the 1960s—the cultivation of gradual disappearance and dissolution of the concrete as a legible affect and its application to photomontage and collage—are indisputably linked to Rauschenberg’s influence . In both A-Muse and Untitled (Chair), Rauschenberg and Richter utilize a solvent to lift the ink from the page, but whereas Rauschenberg moves that ink to another surface, duplicating the image, Richter keeps the ink within its plane, negating the structure and texture of the original photographic reproduction. While Rauschenberg’s transfers present a mirror image of their source, Richter maintains the orientation of the original. Richter’s treatment of the photographs in Untitled (Chair) underlies the artist’s investigation into the status of painting, the terms of which juxtapose two different modes of representation: “on the one hand, nonobjective, gestural forms in blurred or dripping paint [or ink], and on the other, clearly delineated figural forms whose elements loom out from the fog of color like islands of objective realism.” 
A key moment for both artists, while Rauschenberg was occupied by the sheer abundance of images that could now be articulated through the solvent transfer, a “tantalizing game of gesture and copy, of inscription and imprint” , Richter chose to forgo Rauschenberg’s frenzy in the interest of the singular photographic image, its emanation as photo-painting, and the simulation of painting-as-photograph that he would first articulate in paint on canvas in Tisch (Table) (1962). In the catalogue for Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, a 2002 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and the first full-scale Richter survey in New York, Robert Storr writes, of Tisch (Table): “In this one work...Richter became himself as an artist by applying the lessons he learned from his ongoing experiments…Paradoxically, this aesthetic self-discovery meant disappearing into the haze of photographs reincarnated as paintings.” 
“...the motifs never were picked at random: not when you think of the endless trouble I took to find photographs that I could use.”
—Gerhard Richter 
The chair itself was made by Arflex, an Italian furniture company that was founded in 1948 and still exists today. A modular sofa armchair, the chair is advertised in Domus by its versatility, as it can be aligned with identical elements side by side to form a sofa or even a makeshift bed. Richter’s representations of regular household objects are well-known, “after all, if it is not a table, it can be just as well a chair, or a lamp or a roll of toilet paper…” , but what is essential for Richter at this stage in his development as an artist, living and working in a divided Germany, is the slippery nature of both the faculty of memory and of the photograph as memory image, the delusional nature of any interpretation of the photograph as a ‘real’ record of memory. Susan Sontag wrote that “A photograph is not only an image (as a painting is an image), an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stenciled off the real, like a footprint or a death mask.”  Though it was Rauschenberg’s ingenuity that realized the banal procedure of chemical image transfers, it was Richter that carried forward one of the answers he felt could be derived from this method: “...that not a single gesture, painterly or graphic, could claim any longer to articulate the unconscious, subjective, or collective” , that within this haze, even an image as commonplace as a chair exists, in its translation, in random, ever-expanding multiple.
In Thames & Hudson (2009), an installation originally conceived for the 2009 Turner Prize finalist group show, SKAER records the full set of contact print options made available from the surfaces of a single household chair. The subject of the work is uncannily similar to Untitled (Chair), in which the artist demonstrates the futility of the single, interpretive gesture with great economy of means. But whereas Richter focuses on one fragment of the original Domus page, Skaer aligns a sequence of shapes not unlike the multiple details of the Arflex chair or the Gardella table that Richter chose to leave out. There is a sense of tactility to Thames & Hudson that the Domus works do not share, a clear, embodied sculptural quality that allows the viewer to actually ‘feel’ the surfaces and dimensions of a familiar object while simultaneously engaging with the abstract nature of the work, its associations and unconscious connections, and its ambiguous relationship to language. One senses the languid movement of the chair’s various elements as they must have moved through the air, hovering above the page, before Skaer formulated their placement. The language that the print constructs is specific to the chair nearby, yet it cannot be simply ‘read’ as verbal language, even though Skaer provides two visually discrete registers from which this attempt might be made. The print describes a language that is syntactical, yet loose and free of grammatical order or formality; its two moments of punctuation, the period and the comma, complicate the process of interpreting the print’s glyphs, despite the familiarity of its object.
In the eponymous Guardian prints—08.04.13 - 22.04.13, 15.04.13 - 21.04.13, and 13.08.13 - 04.10.13 (all 2013) —Skaer deploys a method of production and a visual vocabulary whose inventions precede the artist by more than half a century, in the works of Rauschenberg and Richter. Viewed in tandem, their works each respond to a regime of images that was born of the camera’s role in commercial advertising, press, and material culture. The lithographs that comprise Skaer’s series were printed directly from the original metal plates of the Guardian (UK edition), and its Sunday sibling, the Observer, which Skaer acquired from the print works in Manchester. The artist later produced a larger series of fifty-one lithographs, 13.08.13 - 04.10.13 (2013), which represent the newspaper’s reporting from mid-August to early October 2013. These works source images from weeks of front-page reportage that covered the crisis in Syria; the Boston Marathon bombings; the stock markets’ inflated fossil fuel investment bubble; plans for austerity; plans for public housing; plans for Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, and related protests.
Impressions of contemporary life are refracted through images and their reproductions. In this cultural moment of image flow, in its intensity and incessant assertions, it is possible for things to get lost in transmission. Skaer embraces this failure, this glitch, for the artist is drawn to systems that only imply the conveyance of information . Using an offset press, modified so that it can be stopped mid-print, Skaer wipes and manipulates the ink with a solvent while the ink is still on the blanket, before it is transferred to the page. However, in clear contrast to both Rauschenberg and Richter, Skaer’s process is not so much a solvent transfer as it is a disruption of the image, during which the artist is consciously selective of the details of the original plate that are wiped in and those that are left out. Skaer cites Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty (2016), an exhibition of Degas’s monotypes at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, as an influence. Degas felt that the monotype, one of the simplest and earliest means of producing a print, was “a starting point from which an image could be reworked and revised.” Skaer has engaged a similar process when exhibiting the Guardian prints, ordering and re-ordering them as they are installed and thereby instilling in the work a quality of transient abstraction as its individual parts are reworked and reassembled.
Stephanie Straine, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, writes about the Guardian prints with an awed, expressive eloquence; her meditation on the fourth in the series 15.04.13 - 21.04.13 is worth reproducing in full :
Skaer deals in copies and copies of copies; information, its recitation, and its possible fictions; and the act of inscribing personal history within collective memory, public record, and the shared archive of being. In 1959, Rauschenberg describes his efforts “to act in the gap” between the blinding facts of art and life . Richter has no interest in such terms, at least by 1970: “I refuse to see the world in a personal way,”  he says to Dienst. Rauschenberg’s drawings from this period (A-Muse, the “Cantos,” and the rest of the 1958 drawings) were attempts at finding a language for memory, one that dramatizes “the way in which both the drawn mark and analogue photography share an indexical basis, holding traces of the hand and of light . Richter examines this premise as well (as in his 50-year archival project, Atlas), but his twin labors of collective memory and mourning are more directly intertwined with a resistance to language and historical remembrance, the disavowal of memory that characterized the German culture of the 1950s and 1960s. Straine is right to invoke the sea in her perception of the Guardian prints. Skaer, along with Rauschenberg and Richter, dredge up fragments that are unmoored, marks that have been found, rendered, and made emphatic by way of duplication (Rauschenberg), modification (Skaer), and negation (Richter).
In what is not only a brilliant monograph on Rauschenberg, but is as much so on the subject of drawing and its contingencies, Ed Krčma asks, “Is it useful or even possible to make meaningful inferences as to the logic guiding Rauschenberg’s selections?”  It seems likely that Rauschenberg finished A-Muse close to that late September day, as he had found a trove of imagery in that day’s paper and incorporated previous findings that he had held onto until this point. Assessing the character of the images he selected, with regard to speed of thought and contingency of his materials, it’s more than likely that he was not searching for the ‘right’ image. While Rauschenberg may have opened up these “figurative givens” , Skaer’s practice is evidence that “a process of estrangement and reinterpretation”  still drives image recognition in contemporary life. When Skaer first contacted the Manchester print works and asked if they would collect the plates post-printing for her use, the artist gave them a range of dates without knowing the press images for the period she selected. There is thus a conceptual quality to the Guardian prints, through which Skaer acknowledges the character of mass media forms (like Rauschenberg) and the accelerated rhythms of forgetting (like Richter), even though these works have precise cultural-date stamps, inextricably tied to past moments in popular culture, in aesthetics and design, or in Skaer’s case, front page news.
Skaer did not intend to relay specific messages concerning current events—with the exception of the Grenfell Tower suite, the only work sourced from the Guardian plates to focus on one image in repetitive sequence. In 2017, Skaer made 15.6.17 (2017), a work comprised of fifteen, unique, offset lithographs, which were printed from one single plate, in contrast to the 2013 editions. 15 June 2017 is a date of particular note and one of tragic record; the front page that day chronicled the fire that consumed Grenfell Tower, a twenty-four story housing block in Lancaster West, London. Like many people in the UK at the time, Skaer was horrified by the fire at Grenfell and felt that it came as a result of austerity measures taken in the UK which undermined the safety of social housing, an issue and a grievance that was widely known at the time. To the artist, reproducing the image of the Grenfell Tower fire is an act that stands in contrast to reproducing images of 9/11: “9/11 was always first conceived of as an image, so to reproduce it I feel it is to collude. Grenfell was meant to be overlooked and invisible, so to reproduce it and changing it with expressive marks was a kind of tending to it.” 
Sontag’s definition of a photograph contains no less than four evocations of language—the language of images and the pictorial; the language of imitation and reproduction; the language of the archaeological, even paleontological, and the language of death and memory.
Through a language that is both polluted and precise , Skaer transforms and destabilizes straightforward readings of once-current events. Like Rauschenberg, Skaer negotiates contemporary debates regarding visual language communication, mark-making, and the culture of images with works that are “Creative and destructive, handmade and readymade, material and spectral, careful and indiscriminate, iconic and indexical, manual and photographic” . The collision of—and her collusion with—pattern and narrative is key to Skaer’s practice, which encourages freewheeling associative capacities, the traversal of multiple fields of language, and an experience of uncertainty and energetic vagueness with regards to meaning. The solvent transfer redefined the material logic of Rauschenberg’s and Richter’s previous work, giving way to the reproducibility of the photographic image. Skaer works with similar liberties in her own indexical approach to print technologies; the Guardian prints communicate through fragments that flicker and flutter within a disrupted and scrambled field.
The works of Robert Rauschenberg, Gerhard Richter, and Lucy Skaer reside in spaces that are rare and fascinating. They do not adhere to any ease of interpretation, despite the familiar codes of their source imagery. One is left to approach these works with a quiet rigor, to oscillate between the spheres of drawing, photography, painting, and printmaking in an attempt to identify the moment at which these works become legible.
— Erin Montanez
The Guardian Print Works, Manchester. Photograph by Lucy Skaer.
 “Amidst a majestically woven tapestry of illusions, translations and borrowings, Dante continually brings emblems of the classical tradition into contact with Christian metaphysics and the ugly realities of his fallen contemporary world.” Ed Krčma, Rauschenberg / Dante: Drawing a Modern Inferno (New Haven: Yale University, 2017), 13.
 Three of these large sheets are in prominent museum collections: the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Menil Collection, Houston, and the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Nagoya, Japan.
 Krčma, 68.
 Galerie 22, Düsseldorf. Rauschenberg, Twombly: Zwei amerikanische Maler (22 April – 30 May 1960)
 Gerhard Richter, in a letter from 10 March 1963 to Helmut and Erika Heinze: „Diesmal ist der ganze Boden mit zerschnittenen Illustrierten bedeckt, neue Macke (8 Tage) von mir: Bilder aus Zeitschriften, die Druckfarben mit Lösemittel aufweichen u. zweckentsprechend verwischen. Macht unheimlich Freude. Illustrierte haben mir es ja schon immer angetan, sicher der dokumentarischen Aktualität wegen. Habe auch schon ein paar Versuche gemacht, so was in groß zu malen. Mal sehen wie es weiter geht.“ (“This time the whole floor is covered with cut up magazines, new quirk (8 days) of mine: pictures from magazines, softening the printing inks with solvent and smudge appropriately. Makes unbelievable joy. [Illustrations] have always done it to me, certainly because of the documentary topicality. Have also already made a few attempts to print something in large. Let’s see how it goes [on].”) (Translated by Lluïsa Sarries Zgonc).
 Richter had absorbed the principles of photomontage at Rauschenberg’s Documenta presentation and by the mid-1960s he had encountered Rauschenberg’s transfer drawings in person, when the Dante illustrations were touring Europe (1964–65) and were reviewed widely in German press. The exhibition was on view in Germany in Krefeld, Dortmund, Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Berlin.
 Peter Geimer, “Seeing One Medium through Another: Richter’s Photo Paintings of the 1960s,” Gerhard Richter: Painting After All (New York, 2020), 43-44.
 Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz, ed., “GERHARD RICHTER: Interview with Rolf-Gunter Dienst (1970),” Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 360.
 Ibid, 360.
 Ibid, 360.
 Benjamin Buchloh, Gerhard Richter and the disappearance of the image in contemporary art (Firenze: Alias, 2010), 44.
 Robert Storr, Gerhard Richter: forty years of painting (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2002), 29.
 Stiles and Selz, ed., 360.
 Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, ed., Gerhard Richter, OCTOBER FILES 8 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2009), 13.
 Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Gerhard Richter and the disappearance of the image in contemporary art (Firenze: Alias, 2010), 45.
 Susan Sontag, quoted in John Berger, “Uses of Photography: For Susan Sontag,” Selected Essays: John Berger, ed. Geoff Dyer (New York: Vintage International, 2001), 287.
 Krčma, 134.
 Ingrid Schaffner, ed., with Liz Park, Carnegie International 57th Edition 2018: The Guide (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Art, 2018), 101.
 Stephanie Straine, “Guardian newspaper prints,” lucyskaer.com, 2020, https://lucyskaer.com/paths/stephanie-straine.
 Stiles and Selz, ed., 373.
 Ibid, 361.
 Krčma, 138.
 Ibid, 68.
 Ibid, 136.
 Lizzie Carey-Thomas, “Garlic and Sapphires in the Mud,” Lucy Skaer (Edinburgh: Fruitmarket Gallery, 2008), 29.
 Lucy Skaer, in correspondence with Peter Freeman, Inc., 11 February 2021.
 Stephanie Straine, “Available Fonts,” lucyskaer.com, 2020, https://lucyskaer.com/paths/stephanie-straine.
 Krčma, 111.