The large-scale text of this drawing’s two-word title occupies the central third of the paper, the word ‘HOLLYWOOD’ almost completely spanning its horizontal axis. The neat letters display the untouched white of the paper, surrounded by a purple pastel background. These letters were not outlined by hand but were positioned on the paper with preparatory pencil markings before acetate stencils, in the sans serif typeface, were laid on the paper. Once these inverse stencils were in place, masking off the letters, Ruscha covered the paper surface with the pastel background. A fixative was then applied to maintain the crisp division between text and background, before the acetate stencils were peeled back to reveal the bare paper surface of the individual letters. In his reliance upon the technical aids of graphic design, Ed Ruscha subverts the common understanding of drawing as a preparatory medium of creative skill and self-expression. However, in HOLLYWOOD TANTRUM, the precision of the stencil technique is undercut by the fluidity of the pale purple background against which the letters stand out clearly. This background reflects one of the artist’s key technical experiments of this period, namely the loose, haphazard application of organic materials (such as foodstuffs) in his works on paper, as in the portfolio Stains 1969 (Tate T12449).
The pastel was applied with liquid and a brush, so that horizontal brushstrokes are visible across its surface. This transformation of a dry medium into a painterly wash confuses the boundaries of drawing and painting. The application is irregular: in some areas the white of the paper shows through, while in others the purple achieves a dense coverage. In the bottom right-hand corner the colour mutates into something closer to a dirty brown, which could be a watermark. Some fingerprints are visible on the pastel surface and flecks of colour have strayed into the drawing’s white border. It is freer in its handling than most of Ruscha’s drawings; indeed the pastel application is almost careless. This offers up a connection between the background style and the text itself, which refers to a person out of control.
The words ‘HOLLYWOOD TANTRUM’ suggest a petulant actor or actress causing a noisy and embarrassing scene. Based in Los Angeles since 1956, Ruscha befriended and collaborated with actors such as Dennis Hopper (1936–2010) from the beginning of his career. In the 1960s and 1970s the art scene in L.A. had many links – both personal and professional – to the city’s film industry, fostering a sense of creative interaction between the spheres of art and cinema (see Schwartz 2010, pp.65–115). The seductive yet morally compromising lure of Hollywood is a recurring theme for Ruscha, who has also depicted the industry’s icons and landmarks repeatedly in his work, such as the Hollywood sign in the drawing DEC. 30th 2005 (Tate AR00065).
Ruscha worked as a layout artist at a Los Angeles advertising agency after graduating from the Chouinard Art Institute in 1960, becoming the production designer for the influential Artforum magazine during 1965–9, under the pseudonym Eddie Russia. As the writer Mary Richards notes of works such as HOLLYWOOD TANTRUM, ‘Legible and authoritative like painted signs, these statements look bold and factual even when the phrases are kooky’ (Richards 2008, p.71). This intentional mixing of visual authority with verbal jokiness is a key characteristic of the late 1970s group of ‘catch-phrase’ drawings by Ruscha in ARTIST ROOMS (Tate AR00053–AR00059). These works build on Ruscha’s west coast pop art style of the early 1960s which established his reputation, replacing the slick visual representations of everyday objects and LA architecture (for example, Standard Study #3 1963, Tate AR00050) with a precise focus on the imaginative potential of language, while retaining the artist’s trademark playful irony.
The writer Neville Wakefield has considered Ruscha’s approach to language and its components, commenting: ‘Nouns, like Hollywood, are apt to take on the volatility of verbs. Reshaped as interruptions, rather than agents of communication, they refuse the fill-up of standard octane meaning. Crossing the lines of signification, Ruscha attenuates the spaces between images and words, between words and things, even as he collapses them.’ (Wakefield 1998, p.27.) The punchy textual energy of HOLLYWOOD TANTRUM toys with the popular fascination for that powerful place of cinematic dreams and the people who inhabit it.
Neville Wakefield, ‘Ed Ruscha: Material Fictions and Highway Codes’, in Ed Ruscha: New Paintings and a Retrospective of the Works on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London 1998, pp.23–31, repr. p.41.
Mary Richards, Ed Ruscha, London 2008.
Alexandra Schwartz, ‘Hollywood Signs’, in Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London 2010, pp.65–115.