Ed Ruscha works in a very open-ended way exploiting tension between images and text that often seem rather arbitrary in their juxtaposition, making the viewer make their own connections and interpretations.
His approach is mainly aesthetic – interested in abstract potential of words against abstract design underlying his photographs and paintings. Some commentators on the You Tube videos below have seen this as rather vacuous. What concerns me is the way a focus on ‘cool’ leads to a sort of ‘apathy of the sublime’.
Catalogue Raisonnee of his photography and signage work.
MoMA Painting Words
Rapid but pretty comprehensive visual overview of his work: photobooks, painting and text with comments by other artists.
An extended interview where Ed Ruscha discusses how his work evolved from his early journey from Oklahoma (slow and simple) to LA (fast and furious). His first car journey he produced as the photobook 26 Gasolene Stations influenced by Robert Frank, Walker Evans and Jack Kerouac, His work on the Hollywood sign comes from the time in 1960s when he could see it from his window as a ‘weather report’ of smog levels.
Not sure where ideas come from, but they do. They come. He has to preconceive ideas and puts recognisable things like words and things. Background in abstract painting, type setting and graphic design.
His work is about the tension between images eg landscape, mountain tops and their symbolism ‘not making any noise’ and words that he can overlay in any size. He often uses stencils.
Experiments with gunpowder.
He discusses his photobooks of gasolene stations, parking lots and swimming pools. He describes them as not having any political point, aiming for a cool distance and ‘no style’. But of gasolene stations he also says ‘ what used to be Navaho land now belongs to the white man to put gasolene stations on.’ The work on parking lots and swimming pools seen from a helicopter also point to something (what? Waste? Wealth? Emptiness?) about life in LA.
Discusses the ways he works across media, particularly etchings.
Ed Ruscha discusses his exhibition ‘Course of Empire’ at National gallery of large paintings of sections of buildings in LA at two points in time. The first 1990s in black and white and the second 2004 showing changes. References the paintings of rise and fall of civilisation by Thomas Cole on exhibition at National Gallery at the same time. He discusses how coincidences happen in the making of a work. He does not think too much about meaning and has a compulsion to make things as an ‘involuntary reflex’ as he gets up in the morning. The words come from movies, things he hears on the radio, overheard conversations, things he reads. ‘Things just come out of the air’. Then viewers make up all sorts of meanings and connections.