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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Edward Ruscha

The Standard Stations which made Edward Ruscha famous.
The photo which started it all,
Amarillo, Texas, 1962.
I suppose it nearly goes without saying that every artist is influenced by his or her environment. Where on earth do we live? That which we live in, that which we see, feel, taste, hear, and even smell all impact to some degree that which we create. Of course, past experiences outside our daily environment can also play a significant role, but even then, they tend to be filtered though the environment which created us and the environment which we, as artists, have created for ourselves. New Englanders paint seashores. Floridians paint palm trees. Midwesterners (like myself) paint covered bridges. Southerners paint stock cars; Texans paint cowboys; Californians paint swimming pools, etc. Of course, all of these are gross stereotypes, but you get the idea. Edward Ruscha (pronounced Roo-SHAY) came out of the Omaha, Nebraska, prairie environment, so he might be expected to paint using lots of horizontal lines interrupted with the occasional cow or two.
Gas, 1940, Edward Hopper
Nine Swimming Pools, 1968, Edward Ruscha
Born in 1937, the son of an insurance auditor, Ruscha spent most of his early years in Oklahoma City (more cows, interrupted by the occasional tornado), but moved on to California in 1956 to study at the California Institute of Art. He's still lives in southern California near Pioneer Town, a leftover western movie set location from the 1950s. And yes, he does swimming pools, though he photographs them rather than painting them. In 1968 he published them in an art book, Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass. But it was not swimming pools that first made Ruscha famous, but a California icon much less glamorous--gas stations--starting with his 1964 Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas (top left) which, ironically, had nothing to do with California, but was inspired by a gas station he happened to pass in traveling back and forth through Amarillo, Texas (above, left). It's not hard to see the influence of Edward Hopper's 1940 painting, Gas (above).

Edward Ruscha recently posed before his Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights, from 1962,
Annie, 1966, Edward Ruscha,
poured maple syrup on canvas.
Edward Ruscha is usually categorized as a Pop artist, though, if so, he has certainly demonstrated his own distinctive approach to such art. That is to say, he's not New York Pop, but far more in line with the transplanted British painter of California lore, David Hockney. However, unlike Hockney, Ruscha is far less prone to paint images, but words, instead. In that regard he has much more in common with artists, Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, except that Ruscha has a penchant for using very non-traditional materials with which to paint. His Annie (left) was created by pouring maple syrup on his canvas (a sweet substance for a sweet little girl). Ruscha also likes using rhyming words in his paintings, rendered with outlandish substances such as gunpowder, vinyl, blood, red wine, fruit and vegetable juices, axle grease, chocolate syrup, tomato paste, Bolognese sauce, cherry pie, coffee, caviar, daffodils, tulips, raw eggs and grass stains (what? No mustard?).

Ice at Nice Price, Edward Ruscha
Cherries on satin.

Pay Nothing Until April, 2003, Edward Ruscha.
Although Ruscha began as a painter, in more recent years he has leaned toward the more viable and versatile medium of photography and publishing to convey his highly evolved Pop messages. In that regard, Ruscha is the quintessential Postmodern artist. That is, he has the skills and the free-thinking versatility to create using whatever media, modes, and methods best suit his concepts, while at the same time maintaining links to the past. Ruscha's Pay Nothing until April (left) from 2003, expresses a cool, detached world-view in keeping with his conceptual works despite its ready-made appearance. However, the pairing of text and image, as conceived by Ruscha, is executed as a montage with a high degree of finish. Ruscha seems to be indifferent to the source material he amasses. Like many artists, he claims to operate in an automatic mode in which everything is an involuntary reflex. "Logic flies out of the window when you’re making a picture..."

Lisp, 1968, Edward Ruscha
The use of the double
negative is no accident.

Quite appropriate for a blog like this.


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