In this drawing the words ‘CROSSOVER DREAMS’ are stencilled on a large sheet of museum board of elongated landscape proportions. The letters were outlined on the paper with preparatory pencil markings using a font template, before stencils were hand cut around the shape of the letters and temporarily affixed to the paper, in a process similar to that used in Ruscha’s ‘catch-phrase’ drawings, such as ARTISTS WHO DO BOOKS 1976 (Tate AR00056) and SMELLS LIKE BACK OF OLD HOT RADIO 1976 (Tate AR00055). Once these inverse stencils were in place, the acrylic paint that forms the background of the drawing was applied by spray gun. Only after this painting process was complete were the stencils removed to reveal the bare surface of the white paper marking out the individual letters.
The sprayed acrylic background takes the form of multiple, irregularly distributed circular patches of black paint, the spray gun having been directed close to the surface of the museum board to achieve the effect. The paint diffuses from these spots so that most of the drawing’s surface area is given a light grey coating, differentiating the background from the letters and the drawing’s margin, both of which are the original white colour of the museum board.
The text of the two-word title uses a slim line, capitalised sans serif font which is significantly different from the fonts and hand-drawn lettering Ruscha used in his paintings and drawings of words and phrases in the 1960s and 1970s (see HONK 1962, Tate AR00184 and MAD SCIENTIST 1975, Tate AR00051). Ten years before the production of CROSSOVER DREAMS, in 1981, Ruscha designed his own typeface, which was to become a central component of his work, including this drawing. When asked in a 2009 interview what his favourite font was, the artist replied:
One of my own invention, which I call ‘Boy Scout Utility Modern’. If the telephone company was having a picnic and asked one of their employees to design a poster, this font is what he’d come up with. There are no curves to the letters – they’re all straight lines – and I’ve been using it for years. I guess it’s my font, because it’s become comfortable to me, and I can’t get beyond it – and don’t need to get beyond it.
(Quoted in McKenna 2009, p.58.)
The ‘Boy Scout Utility Modern’ font is a means to introduce uniformity across a vast number of works in different media, creating a visual look that is unmistakably Ruscha’s, while also advancing the ambiguities of interpretation which characterise the texts themselves. Among the other works which make use of the font is the painting DAILY PLANET 2003 (Tate AR00048).
The greyscale appearance of this drawing is evocative of old black and white movies – a longstanding interest of the artist’s which may be seen in his works that explore the fragile materiality of celluloid, such as ‘The End’ series (for example, The End #1 1993, Tate T07512). The title and subject matter of CROSSOVER DREAMS alludes to a central and mythic desire of many Hollywood-based actors: to ‘crossover’ from television or theatre work into film roles, the cinema being viewed as the apex of an actor’s career – the route to fame, success and wealth. The labelling of these crossover aspirations as mere dreams points to the statistical unlikelihood of achieving such a goal. Ruscha’s wry look at his adopted hometown of Los Angeles exposes it as a place of failure and deferred ambition, littered with the broken dreams of actors and actresses who never quite made it. The sombre monochrome palette of the background provides a suitably melancholic tone for the drawing.
The artist has lived and worked in Los Angeles since moving to the city from Oklahoma at the age of eighteen, in 1956. Ruscha’s artistic identity is intimately entwined with Los Angeles and its film industry. His work takes inspiration from the sprawling west coast metropolis and its iconic role as producer of Hollywood myth and fantasy. ‘“If I’m influenced by the movies,” says Ruscha: “it’s from way down underneath, not just on the surface.”’ (Quoted in Rowell and Butler 2004, p.21.)
Margit Rowell and Cornelia Butler, Cotton Puffs, Q-tips, Smoke and Mirrors: the Drawings of Ed Ruscha, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 2004.
Kristine McKenna, ‘Ed Ruscha in Conversation with Kristine McKenna’, in Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 2009, pp.55–63.