Edward Ruscha

BLVD.-AVE.-ST.

2006

Artist
Edward Ruscha born 1937
Medium
Acrylic paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1782 x 2747 x 40 mm
Acquisition
ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
Reference
AR00049

Not on display

Summary

Ed Ruscha’s BLVD.- AVE.- ST. 2006 is a large rectangular acrylic painting, with the majority of the canvas speckled in shades of pale and dark grey. Crossing diagonally from the bottom left to the top right corner is a thick, straight band of pale grey with the abbreviation ‘ST.’ represented parallel to it. Intersecting this band are two other, slightly thinner pale bands, running from the top left to the bottom right, with ‘AVE.’ and ‘BLVD.’ represented parallel to them. These crossing lines form a street view from above, with the end of the lines on the left side fading into the background, while on the right edge the lines end abruptly. Running laterally along the top of the canvas is a straight strip of speckled red and orange, which appears to mark the horizon.

Ruscha’s career began in 1956 with his move to Los Angeles, where he studied graphic design at the Chouinard Art Institute. Art critic Andrew Bogle has noted how Ruscha adapted the ‘virtues of advertising graphics, notably its techniques, its directness, clarity and economy of means … to his own highly individualistic style’ (Geldzahler and Bogle 1978, p.18). This method can be seen in the wake of his transition from advertising to fine art, most especially in the deft neatness of the typography and the precision of his lines. For the background of BLVD.- AVE.- ST., Ruscha used an airbrush tool and acrylic paint in order to achieve what art historian Richard D. Marshall has called ‘phantom avenues spray-painted on grounds of modulated greys and blacks’ (Marshall 2003, p.237). While exhibiting Ruscha’s colour and technique, the large scale of the canvas also implies the vastness of the city’s urban sprawl.

Ruscha’s love of language, especially that of signs and billboards from highways and the inner city, can be seen in the common abbreviation and typographically stylised lettering of ‘BLVD.’, ‘AVE.’ and ‘ST.’. The viewer may not immediately recognise that this grid-like pattern is a street map were it not for the text. Marshall notes that this is similar to artists such as Piet Mondrian (1872–1944), whose grid artworks reveal their cityscape inspiration once looked at alongside their title (Marshall 2003, p.238). The words are indeed the only indication of a human element in Ruscha’s sparse cityscape: the image evokes the concrete and grid-like structure of the entirety of urban Los Angeles. In contrast to the grey hues, the bright orange and red of the horizon adds the suggestion of a Technicolor Western movie to an otherwise stark painting, a reference to the ‘old Hollywood’ aesthetic, as seen in paintings such as Trademark #5 (Tate T07510).

Ruscha’s fascination with, and interrogation of, urban and natural sites has been a concern throughout his career. This was initially explored in a series of black and white photographs entitled Thirtyfour Parking Lots 1967. The series consisted of aerial shots of parking lots in Los Angeles, exemplified by prints such as Goodyear Tires (Tate AL00252). These images act as more detailed and site-specific photographic precursors to BLVD.-AVE.-ST. As Marshall notes, Ruscha commenced a series of paintings in the 1990s which show the oversize, simplified street locations of Los Angeles from an aerial perspective, of which this work is one (Marshall 2003, p.182). In contrast with other landscape works by Ruscha such as The Music from the Balconies (Tate AR01126), a colourful stereotypical rural scene, BLVD.-AVE.-ST. appears anonymous, urban and almost abstract. Yet in both forms of landscape Ruscha maintains the specific West Coast pragmatism of his pop art contemporaries, holding a balance between the reality of the locale and stylised Hollywood depiction.

Further reading
Henry Geldzahler and Andrew Bogle, Graphic Works by Edward Ruscha, exhibition catalogue, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland 1978.
Richard D. Marshall, Ed Ruscha, London 2003.
Mary Richards, Ed Ruscha, London 2008.

Hayley Gault
University of Edinburgh
November 2015

The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.