PATRICIA LAY-DORSEY – Tales from the Rauschenberg Residency

Patricia Lay-Dorsey in Studio
Collage ©Patricia Lay-Dorsey
It was fifteen months between the time I learned from Laura Moya of Photolucida that I was the recipient of the Critical Mass 2015 Rauschenberg Residency award, and the March 2017 date I arrived at Captiva Island, Florida. During those months I read as much as I could find about the residency. One theme stood out: stay open to new ideas because you never know what is going to happen there! So instead of planning to work on a particular project, I simply brought several lenses for my camera, art supplies to make the ink drawings I had recently been incorporating into my photos, and an open mind.
From that first day on, I was photographing everything I saw on Bob Rauschenberg’s 20 acres of land on Captiva Island. That included sunrises over the iconic Fish House on Pine Island Sound, palm trees in the sun-dappled jungle, osprey and herons flying overhead, gangs of ibis on the jungle paths, almost invisible lizards on trees and one turtle in the grass. I never tired of this lush tropical paradise and could understand why Bob Rauschenberg had chosen to call it home for 40 years before his death in 2008.
I was working in Bob’s main studio and late at night would have conversations with him. He may have physically passed from this life but his spirit permeated the place. It was Bob who taught me that art is not work, it is play. At one point he said to me, “It’s like sex. You don’t think about it, you just do it!” And I am convinced it was Bob who inspired me to start creating photo collages – unlike anything I had ever done before. 
My first collage was completed late one night when I had something else in mind and in frustration finally decided to go with my gut. That collage featured the wharf out to Bob’s beloved Fish House, a golden sunrise, a heron, turtle and a sculpture attached to a palm tree in the jungle that had been created by an earlier resident artist named Pat Oleszko. It was the first of 15 collages I completed during my six-week residency.
Collage ©Patricia Lay-Dorsey
Collage ©Patricia Lay-Dorsey


Collage ©Patricia Lay-Dorsey

Founded in 2012, the Rauschenberg Residency program is based on Bob’s lifelong commitment to collaborating with artists of different disciplines. In this 25th session I was privileged to be in community with 10 global artists who worked with sound, graphite, fabrics, film making, drawings, paintings, prints, sculpture, installations, photographs, words and dance. During our six weeks together I collaborated with my fellow artists by using photos I took of them at work in their studios and at play on the grounds to create collages featuring them individually and collectively. Taking self-portraits allowed me to be included too. Since returning home to Detroit in mid-April, I continue to use my 7000 photos from the residency to create new photo collages. At present I have 32 and see this as a long-term project.

25th Session Group – Credit: Mark Poucher
So – yes, I would say the most important artistic tool I brought with me was an open mind. And I would encourage future Critical Mass awardees of the Rauschenberg Residency to do the same. Expect the unexpected and I promise, you will not be disappointed. I, for one, will never be the same again. I offer my deepest gratitude for this life-changing gift to Photolucida, the Rauschenberg Foundation, the Residency staff and volunteers, my community of artistic peers, and especially to Bob – whose unique vision and artistic courage continue to inspire us all.
Patricia Lay-Dorsey
Instagram @patricialaydorsey

It sounds fabulous! I am so utterly jealous of that experience. Great for you that you were able to have it, and to use it to explore work new and different for you. Rock on!