Ed Ruscha’s exploration of language and American West Coast culture centred on Hollywood has made him one of the pre-eminent artists of his generation.
Since the early 1960s he has channelled his fascination with words and the act of communication into books, print-making, photography, drawing and painting. Ruscha has held a long fascination with the urban landscape around Los Angeles, exploring the grids of boulevards and avenues that order the city in drawings. His interest in language can be seen to derive in part from the signage and billboards that articulate these highways.
His work has much in common with Pop Art, but while Ruscha’s carefully planned paintings and drawings draw on popular references and mass media, his playful use of irony, paradox and absurdist juxtapositions have set him firmly apart from any movement.
ARTIST ROOMS holds a remarkable survey of Ruscha’s work dating between the early 1960s and 2010, including an important group of drawings and several key paintings that explore the various series that the artist has made since the 1960s. Early works such as Honk 1962 and Dance? 1973 depict single, pithy words in strong typographic format, while the catch-phrase drawings of the mid 1970s such as I plead insanity because I’m just crazy about that little girl 1976 invoke vernacular language against single fields of colour. A more brooding atmosphere emerges in the later series, The End, which illustrates the words with imagery that recalls fading film credits. Works in this series include The Final End 1992 and THE END #40 2003.
The artist’s enjoyment of the contradictory and illogical is at play in the mountain paintings, a sequence of works begun in the late 1990s in which sublime alpine landscapes form the backdrop for banal statements, as found in Pay Nothing Until April 2003.
ARTIST ROOMS also contains a number of works from Ruscha's various photographic series. The Rooftop Series, produced by the artist in 1961, comprises four photographs taken from the top of the Carson-Roberts Advertising Agency building in West Hollywood (Residential; Rooftop; Leggett's; Hancock). The series Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles was originally produced as a book in 1967, with forty-eight pages encompassing thirty-one photographs depicting thirty-four parking lots. Ruscha reprinted these photographs in 1999, a set of which belongs to the ARTIST ROOMS collection. Examples include Sears, Roebuck & Co., Bellingham & Hamlin, North Hollywood; Good Year Tires, 6610 Laurel Canyon, North Hollywood and Pierce College, Woodland Hills. Nine photographs of empty Los Angeles swimming pools make up the series Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass, which were produced as a book in 1968, and later printed as individual photographic prints (Pool #1, Pool #2, Pool #3, Pool #4, Pool #5, Pool #6, Pool #7, Pool #8, Pool #9). All these series record the urban infrastructure of Los Angeles and its environs with a deadpan approach.