Gagosian is pleased to present Custom-Built Intrigue: Drawings 1974–1984, an exhibition of key text drawings by Ed Ruscha. Many of these historical gems have been brought together thanks to generous loans from private and institutional collections.
Throughout decades of formal experimentation, Ruscha has explored the role of language in painting, drawing, photography, printmaking, and bookmaking through a singular, sometimes oblique use of words. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, he honed his distinctive drawing practice to create some of the most compelling works of his career. The text drawings from this period, exquisitely rendered in pastel, dry pigment, and various edible substances, from spinach to carrot juice, bridge the spirited Pop art for which Ruscha first gained renown with the cerebral Conceptualism to which his work was essential.
The exhibition features a decade of drawings (1974–1984) towards the end of which Ruscha reintroduces the element of imagery. With the inclusion of one work on paper from 1986, we can see a clear shift to another stage of his drawing practice.
Drawing has long been considered the most direct process by which thought is transferred into image, but Ruscha almost completely conceptualizes his images prior to making them. Using a reverse-stenciling graphic technique, Ruscha cuts out stencils in the shape of letters and places them on paper. He then applies pigment around the covered area with unconventional tools, such as cotton puffs and Q-tips, to create his typography utilizing negative space rather than line. Selectively trawling words and phrases from the American vernacular with little regard to their prescribed meaning or intention, Ruscha subverts the symbolic system of language altogether. Words and phrases severed from specific time, location, or context resonate with just as much vitality and pathos as when the drawings were created.
Custom-Built Intrigue (1981) combines vibrant colors and dynamic lingo with a flare of California cool, fusing the mythic cars of LA’s hot-rod culture (custom-built) with the complex plots of the silver screen (intrigue). In this drawing, Ruscha additionally describes his own creative process of combining words as reusable parts, producing a complex and enigmatic composite of meanings. In two drawings from 1976, Find Contact Lens at Bottom of Swimming Pool and Thick Blocks of Musical Fudge, richly sensorial words emerge from almost palpable hues. Find Contact Lens at Bottom of Swimming Pool evocatively describes a nearly impossible task: the dappled aquamarine surface conjures sunlight striking water, beneath which the missing contact lens supposedly lurks. Thick Blocks of Musical Fudge exemplifies Ruscha’s formal and linguistic mastery, whereby sound and taste are conflated in a sumptuous synesthetic experience. The words coax the textures and smells of rich confectionery out of the deep brown pastel ground. He Enjoys the Co. of Women is classic Ruscha; its droll use of colloquial and abbreviated language creates an open narrative with an economy of means.
Ruscha’s protean drawings have a renewed potency in an era when talking heads, Internet memes, and 140-character tweets corrode and constrict social channels of imagination, communication, and interpretation.
A fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by Lisa Turvey, editor of the Ed Ruscha Catalogue Raisonné of the Works on Paper, will be published to accompany the exhibition.
Jacoba Urist profiles the legendary collector.
The Art History of Presidential Campaign Posters
Against the backdrop of the 2020 US presidential election, historian Hal Wert takes us through the artistic and political evolution of American campaign posters, from their origin in 1844 to the present. In an interview with Quarterly editor Gillian Jakab, Wert highlights an array of landmark posters and the artists who made them.
“Things Fall Apart”: Ed Ruscha’s Swiped Words
Lisa Turvey examines the range of effects conveyed by the blurred phrases in recent drawings by the artist, detailing the ways these words in motion evoke the experience of the current moment.
Gwen Allen recounts her discovery of cutting-edge artists’ magazines from the 1960s and 1970s and explores the roots and implications of these singular publications.
Eilshemius and Me: An Interview with Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha tells Viet-Nu Nguyen and Leta Grzan how he first encountered Louis Michel Eilshemius’s paintings, which of the artist’s aesthetic innovations captured his imagination, and how his own work relates to and differs from that of this “Neglected Marvel.”
The River Café Cookbook
London’s River Café, a culinary mecca perched on a bend in the River Thames, celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2018. To celebrate this milestone and the publication of her cookbook River Café London, cofounder Ruth Rogers sat down with Derek Blasberg to discuss the famed restaurant’s allure.
September 16–22, 2020
At the start of his artistic career, Ed Ruscha called himself an “abstract artist . . . who deals with subject matter.” Abandoning academic connotations that came to be associated with Abstract Expressionism, he looked instead to tropes of advertising and brought words—as form, symbol, and material—to the forefront of painting. Working in diverse media with humor and wit, he oscillates between sign and substance, locating the sublime in landscapes both natural and artificial. Ruscha’s formal experimentations and clever use of the American vernacular have evolved in form and meaning as technology alters the essence of human communication.
Photo: Kate Simon
Custom-Built Intrigue: Drawings 1974–1984
Ed Ruscha: Custom-Built Intrigue: Drawings 1974–1984 is available for online reading from September 16 through October 15 as part of the From the Library series. Published on the occasion of the artist’s 2017 exhibition at Gagosian, 980 Madison Avenue, New York, this catalogue features over seventy-five text drawings by Ruscha, rendered in pastel, dry pigment, and various edible substances. An essay by Lisa Turvey, editor of the Ed Ruscha catalogue raisonné of works on paper, examines the artist’s use of humor in this body of work.
Ed Ruscha: Custom-Built Intrigue: Drawings 1974–1984 (New York: Gagosian, 2018)
May 28–June 30, 2020
Gagosian is pleased to present recent paintings by Ed Ruscha online for galleryplatform.la. Fifty years ago, Ruscha purchased a set of vellum drum skins from a leather shop in Los Angeles. He has continued to collect these vintage objects, and since 2011 he has used them as canvases for the works on view in his solo exhibition Drum Skins at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin.
Installation view, Ed Ruscha: Drum Skins, Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin, January 11–October 4, 2020. Artwork © Ed Ruscha