By Alex Needham
From his paint-spattered bed to a stuffed goat, the artist broke boundaries. On the eve of a major retrospective, his friends recall a generous spirit on his island hideaway
Matt Hall vividly remembers his job interview with Robert Rauschenberg. A mutual acquaintance had approached Hall, then sous chef at a restaurant on the island of Captiva, off Florida, to see whether he would be interested in managing the artist's property nearby. As Hall approached his beach house, the artist emerged on to the balcony. “Mr Rauschenberg, so good to see you again,” Hall called up (Rauschenberg was a regular customer). “Oh, Matt, don't call me Mr Rauschenberg. Call me Bob,” came the reply.
“I don't know why,” remembers Hall, sitting in the lounge of a glorious beach house with a yellow and blue Rauschenberg collage hanging on the wall, “but I said, ‘Bob: backwards or forwards, it's spelt the same. It reminds me of the joke about the dyslexic who tried to commit suicide: he jumped behind the train.'” Rauschenberg cackled for an inordinate length of time, Hall adds, given the poor quality of the joke. Finally, the artist explained himself: “I'm dyslexic. See you Monday, sweets.”