Ed Ruscha and the Great American West
Featuring essays by Karin Breuer and D.J. Waldie, plus a fascinating interview with the artist conducted by Kerry Brougher. Published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2016 on the occasion of the exhibition at the de Young Museum, San Francisco. Hardcover, 244 pages.
Read a review by Crown Point staff member Carleigh Koger:
Ed Ruscha and the Great American West demonstrates the artist’s accomplishments over the last 60 years with comprehensive material about his technique and stunning images of his work. The catalog contains a foreword by Max Hollein and texts by Karin Breuer and D.J. Waldie, along with an interview with the artist by Kerry Brougher. The catalog is organized into nine chapters: The Long Horizon, How to Get There, What Is Out There, When You Get There, The View from Above and To the West, The View from Hollywood, Into A Hollywood Sunset, The West You’ve Read About, and The End. A selected chronology by Colleen Terry describes points of Ruscha’s life with accompanying portraits.
“The Long Horizon” is a chapter comprised of panoramic landscape paintings with endless skies. America’s Future, an ironic title, is an extended painting of a fiery sunset over a vacant land. Blood red and golden yellow stretch across the canvas in a romantic glow. Each work included in this chapter has a cinematic appeal induced by horizontal formats and dramatically rendered vistas.
The second chapter, “How to Get There” introduces Ruscha’s curiosity about gas stations, a subject he documented during many road trips back and forth from Oklahoma to Los Angeles. He is attracted to the gas station’s linear architecture, which he replicates with precise lines that often recede into a vanishing point from the right corner. The gas station in Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, painted from a low-angle perspective, looms overhead as yellow searchlights beckon in a pitch-black sky. Ruscha’s gas stations encapsulate relief for long-distance drivers.
Ruscha often uses rhymes, double-entendres, and ironic phrases in his titles and within his paintings. His interest in typography and his background in commercial design extends into his direct painting of words. He gathers information from signs, labels, logos, billboards, lyrics, ads, and even dreams to use as the subject of his textual work. He experiments with a range of fonts, and has created his own unique lettering style. In a refreshing and playful approach, Ruscha paints visual onomatopoeia: Oily, the title as well as the subject of a painting, is rendered in glistening, drippy dark letters over a murky brown background. In contrast, Slobberin Drunk at the Palomino is a deadpan painting of the title in a white font over a black canvas. By changing font styles and backgrounds, Ruscha investigates words and their meanings from a painted perspective.
Ed Ruscha and the Great American West is a thorough presentation of Ruscha’s fascination with the western landscape, Los Angeles, and life on the road. His paintings of mundane subjects, such as street signs, pools, and apartment buildings are vitalized with straightforward and witty sophistication.