Sixty years ago, the American artist Robert Rauschenberg obtained a drawing from another US artist, Willem de Kooning and proceeded to erase it. The result, titled "Erased de Kooning Drawing, Robert Rauschenberg, 1953" is in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of this piece of work, I was reminded of it when today I embarked on a similar project.
Of the larger canvases I brought home from University in 2001, one was four by four feet, stretched and primed and pristine white. Too big to store easily in the studio downstairs, it's been tucked behind another similarly-sized completed painting in my bedroom. But there's no room for such a picture, devoid of imagery or no, in my next studio, so today I began the process of taking the blank one apart.
First of all the canvas had to be pulled away from the stretcher, the staples popping out and falling to the floor. Using my Gran's dressmaker's shears, I cut the canvas into strips and put them in the bin. Next I took out the screws. This showed that the bloke I bought it from ( he'd made several and didn't need two of them) had cunningly made use of several short lengths of wood, fastening them together with four-hole metal joining strips. So, more holes and more screws.
Once the screws were out, the stretcher still held together because of the thin strips of MDF round the edge which provide the canvas with lift away from the wooden stretcher. They had to be eased off with the screwdriver. Once everything was apart and on the floor, it looked a little like a flat-pack item from IKEA, laid out to check against the sheet of assembly diagrams. But I was going backwards, and the wood was broken up into shorter lengths and binned.
OK, I don't think this was an artwork, though I'm sure a video of the afternoon's work would entrance just as many people as those I see being ignored so often in galleries. And as a philosophical exercise, it kept me on track to shake off the ridiculous idea that possessions make me who I am.