Sometimes I wonder whether I am painting pictures of words or whether I’m painting pictures with words.
Ed Ruscha’s oeuvre has never been confined to established categories of style or media; for instance, books, drawings, prints, photography, and painting are used in parallel, together with materials as unconventional as gunpowder, fruit juice, bleach, coffee, and syrup. But throughout his restrained yet daring experimentation, writing as act and subject, in print form or painted on canvas, has remained a constant inspiration for his iconic images of the American vernacular. His singular, sometimes oblique use of words allows for the exploration of the role of signifiers in language and thought, while his range of artistic means allows the act of reading to be literally manipulated as a process by which to generate meaning.
Following Reading Ed Ruscha at Kunsthaus Bregenz, which fully explored Ruscha’s obsession with books and language from the outset of his career, this exhibition focuses on his richly diverse investigations of the book as a subject, as a support for making pictures, or as an actual object. It includes acrylic and oil paintings, on stretched, unstretched, and shaped canvases, drawings on paper, watercolors on vellum, photographs, and book works.
In the modestly scaled painting History Book Laying on a Table (2012), the prone spine of the reference book demarcates two contrasting zones of light and dark, a schematic depiction of the Manichean forces at work in the march of time. The large-scale painting Gilded, Marbled and Foibled (2011–12)—the title a wry nod to early Conceptual art instruction—combines the exquisite detail of an illuminated manuscript with the hallucinatory patterns of marbled paper. Material references to traditional bookmaking are evident in the small-scale Open Book series (2002–05), where blank double pages are weightlessly painted on untreated linen, and in the circular vellum paintings with their obtuse, gilded thoughts. The three monumental canvases that form the Old Book cycle present a vanitas in which the ravages of time appear in the painted exactitude of fraying bindings, mold spots, and worm holes.
Various bookworks provide corollaries to the paintings. A strategy for a series of small abstract paintings from 1994–95, in which insidious threats are rendered in paint or bleach as blank widths of contrasting color like Morse communication, resurfaces a decade later in book covers, where the oppositional actions of enunciation and erasure meet. In another book series, Ruscha has again used bleach to leach a single large initial on the colored linen covers of found books, such as a gothic M on the cover of Imaginary Gardens, or L L on two matching tomes of Shakespeare plays, by which they become Twins (diptych) in form if not content. In another, monochrome books mimic Minimalist objects, sporting weighty, generic titles such as Atlas or Bible.
Course of Empire
Ed Ruscha sat down with Tom McCarthy and Elizabeth Kornhauser, curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to discuss the nineteenth-century artist Thomas Cole, whose Course of Empire paintings inspired a series of works by Ruscha more than a century later.
Gagosian Quarterly Winter 2018
The Winter 2018 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available. Our cover this issue comes from High Times, a new body of work by Richard Prince.
Ed Ruscha and Joanne Northrup
Ed Ruscha sat down with JoAnne Northrup of the Nevada Museum of Art to discuss the exhibition Unsettled, which the two co-curated.
Art and Food
Mary Ann Caws and Charles Stuckey discuss the presence of food and the dining table in the history of modern art.
Diana Widmaier Picasso, curator of the exhibition Desire, reflects on the history of eroticism in art.
Ed Ruscha’s Burning Gas Station (1965–66) was a game changer. Text by Larry Gagosian.
Custom-Built Intrigue: Drawings 1974–1984
May 6–June 30, 2017
980 Madison Avenue, New York
Ed Ruscha | Jonas Wood
Notepads, Holograms and Books
March 30–June 17, 2017
Extremes and In-betweens
October 5–December 17, 2016
Grosvenor Hill, London
Books & Co.
July 28–September 9, 2016