A New Precedent: Edward Ruscha

February 23, 2009


The Works of Edward Ruscha
by Dave Hickey and Peter Plagens, Introduction by Anne Livet with forward by Henry T. Hopkins
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA, 1982

  • lifts the curtain on the commonplace sights and sound we no longer see or hear and makes us react to them as we never have before or will again
  • “reads” words, titles, slogans, and sentences from books on our common character that only exist in his imagination
  • often yanks the viewer into canvases to roam about and make our own determination of what we see and sense
  • all like to read his roadmaps differently according to own lights: freedom of new perception – art that jiggles and rearranges our mental landscape, quickens and refreshes our native sensibilities.
  • made collages of juxtaposed images and words: resonant device – refines tactics of collage, isolating and combining words and images to increasingly subtle ways – personal rhetoric that is literal and literary

  • in 3327 Division(’39 Ford) the visual components interact to tell a story about a house on Division Street where Ruscha was living at the time, and the dispersion of numbers and words in the address provides visual framework or context of the story: words placed in context with images function as images
  • exploited ambiguity of sign and image situated in an equally ambiguous semantic and pictorial space.
  • words function as objects completing the semantic content  and design of a picture.
  • creates a metalanguage where the concrete image invites one to look for the language behind it
  • work embodies idealism and introspection that other Pop artists purged from: embraced vulgar techniques and commercial culture imagery
  • uses placement and juxtaposition of words and iconography to generate meaning, to adapt spatial functions of prepositions and conjunctions to link unlike concepts (similar to French Symbolist poets)
  • Creates a multivalent metacollage that undermines the cohesiveness of sign and syntax and allows the different components to relate to one another in a variety of ways so that the semantic resonances are multiplied
  • fragmentation, isolation, relativism, psychology, and innovation


Edward Ruscha

Exhibition organized by Linda L. Cathcart

Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Buffalo, NY 1976

  • his work establishes and defines the area of Pop sensibility where pop merges into neo-Surrealism
  • uses letters as the object, sometimes based on a diagonal canvas
  • echos movie screen’s horizontally and centered fade-ins and fade-outs of words; presents words isolated on a shaded background
  • relates background color – divided into two horizontal sections grading abruptly from one color to another – conveys relationship of word and the ground > feeling of engendered by the word/color combination
  • words are the only thing that have no recognizable size – letters have no real size and are just really components of words
  • does not intentionally mean for the words in his work to come out as puns but some compositions happen to feel that way


Edward Ruscha

Exhibition in 1990

Elbrig de Groot, Dan Cameron, Pontus Hulten, Bernard Blistene

Museum Boymons-van Beuningen, Rotterdam

  • Style uses film culture spin-offs from opening credits
  • distilled in deadpan, wisecracking persona that appropriates casual language characterized by a tough-guy approach, disdaining subtlety and sentiment in a to-the-point clarity associated in American culture with a temperament of both Hollywood and where he was raised
  • straddles line between sensitivity and ennui but is attuned to the interstices between his words’ literal meanings and those which arise from their being transposed over his often contradictory image-fields
  • has qualities of absurdity and paradox, sentimental realism
  • colors, imagery, and texture informed by drabness, sentimentality, ad sense of everyday heroics, trademark use of twilight, dusk, sunrise, mid-afternoon skies, nautical or automotive imagery to supply appropriate sensations of longing, expectation, or uneasiness behind his more schematic twists of language
  • words as a visually important element can be put in the same category as collage elements, part of another dimension of reality introduced into the picture in order to question the very essense and status of the art work as such
  • words have the poetic value, content value which can be more or less stressed
  • ruscha: beautifully balanced, friendly attitude is as relaxed as his works
  • words are changed by great purity where there is more honing
  • reunites all the essential elements of the thinking and feeling that are current, simple, and pure
  • the fewer the letters in the message, the stronger is the role of each letter and also the stronger the message in general
  • the suggestiveness of letters is enhanced by the scarcity
  • short messages are always more powerful than longer ones
  • ruscha puts extreme care into the limits and values of words

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