Daily Planet depicts a precisely detailed snow-capped mountain against a deep blue sky. The single jagged alpine peak forms a diagonal line across the canvas, with the apex in the top left, sloping down to the bottom right. Painted on top of this landscape is the seemingly unrelated phrase ‘DAILY PLANET’ in a clean modern font that is evenly spaced so that each word occupies a separate line in the centre of the picture. This work belongs to a large body of paintings, begun in the 1980s, in which the artist Edward Ruscha overlaid natural landscapes with texts (see also Pay Nothing Until April 2003, AR00047). Although, in this work, the legibility of the white text is reduced by the white expanse of the snowy mountain.
To create this work Ruscha sprayed a thin layer of paint onto the canvas, then worked the image up in acrylic paint using a medium-sized brush. The text was applied using stencils, and is presented in Boy Scout Utility Modern, a typeface created by the artist and described by him as a sort of ‘no-style’ (Richards 2008, p.82).
Unlike Pay Nothing Until April, which appropriates a common piece of advertising jargon, the source for the text in Daily Planet is difficult to pinpoint. With its natural imagery and evocation of ecological cycles, the work might call to mind the language employed by New Age and conservation movements, which had an important relationship to the genre of landscape painting in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. Yet popular culture is also alluded to as Ruscha’s title is also the name of the newspaper for which Clark Kent is a reporter in the Superman comics. Ruscha has described the work’s title as ‘mysterious and teasing’ (artist’s talk, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 21 October 2011) and is traditionally reluctant to ascribe any definite meaning to the phrases he uses. In an interview he claimed, ‘I’m empty headed in many ways, and don’t know why I follow what I follow. Like most people, I operate on an automatic mode, and everything is an involuntary reflex. Logic flies out of the window when you’re making a picture, at least it does with me. And thank God it does.’ (Quoted in Ruscha 2010, p.63.) This coolly detached approach to artistic inspiration is reflected in the neutral appearance of the Boy Scout Utility Modern typeface.
Ruscha has spent his career living and working in the southern Californian city of Los Angeles, and its film industry has had an important bearing on his work. Ruscha has commented that the backdrops for paintings such as Daily Planet are ‘not really mountains in the sense that a naturalist would paint a picture of a mountain. They’re ideas of mountains, picturing some kind of unobtainable bliss or glory […] tall, dangerous and beautiful’ (quoted in Richards 2008, p.100). Many of the images are appropriated from photographs and postcards or amalgamated from images of different mountain ranges. As such the scenes call to mind the mountainscapes of adventure movies like the 1969 James Bond picture On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, or the logo of Paramount Pictures – one of Hollywood’s biggest production companies – as much as they echo the sublime landscapes of European Romantic and American pastoral painting. By deflating awe-inspiring natural imagery with the imposition of banal text rendered in ‘no-style’, Ruscha’s painting reflects the city in which he lives, a place he once referred to as ‘the ultimate cardboard cut-out town’ (quoted in Ruscha 2004, p.244).
Ed Ruscha and Alexandra Schwartz (ed.), Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages, Cambridge, MA 2004.
Mary Richards, Ed Ruscha, Singapore 2008.
Edward Ruscha, James Ellroy, Ralph Rugoff, Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 2010.
The University of Edinburgh
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