Pay Nothing Until April depicts precisely detailed snow-capped mountains contrasted against a yellow sky suggestive of sunset or sunrise. The low lighting casts azure blue shadows down the sides of the central peaks while the foreground is rendered by the dark silhouette of an incline that cuts across the bottom right corner of the tableau. Painted on top of this landscape is the seemingly unrelated phrase ‘PAY NOTHING UNTIL APRIL’ in a clean, modern font that is evenly spaced so that each word occupies a separate line in the centre of the picture. This work belongs to a large body of paintings, begun in the 1980s, in which Ruscha overlays natural landscapes with texts (see also Daily Planet 2003, Tate AR00048).
To create this work, Ruscha sprayed a thin layer of paint onto the canvas, then worked the image up in acrylic paint using medium-sized brush. The text was applied using stencils, and is presented in Boy Scout Utility Modern, a typeface of the artist’s own creation described by him as a sort of ‘no-style’ (Richards 2008, p.82).
Pay Nothing Until April expresses a cool, detached world-view in keeping with Ruscha’s conceptual works such as his photo-book (Every Building On) The Sunset Strip 1966 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Roughly the size of a poster that might be displayed in a shop window, the picture’s alpine setting and eye-grabbing lettering call to mind an advertisement for a bargain ski holiday. Despite its ready-made appearance, however, the pairing of text and image was conceived by Ruscha who executed the montage with a high degree of finish. Nevertheless Ruscha claims to be indifferent to the eclectic source material that he amasses: ‘I’m empty headed in many ways, and don’t know why I follow what I follow. Like most people, I operate on an automatic mode, and everything is an involuntary reflex. Logic flies out of the window when you’re making a picture, at least it does with me. And thank God it does.’ (Hayward Gallery 2010, p.63.) As with the aforementioned photo-book, which brings together images on the basis of somewhat arbitrary categorisations, Pay Nothing Until April appears to have been created in accordance with a pointedly superficial sensibility.
Ruscha has spent his entire career living and working in the southern Californian city of Los Angeles, and its film industry has had an important bearing on his work. Ruscha has confessed that, for him, the backdrops for paintings such as Pay Nothing Until April are ‘not really mountains in the sense that a naturalist would paint a picture of a mountain. They’re ideas of mountains, picturing some kind of unobtainable bliss or glory … tall, dangerous and beautiful’ (quoted in Richards 2008, p.100). Appropriated from photographs and postcards or amalgamated from different mountain ranges, these scenes call to mind the mountainscapes of adventure movies such as the 1969 James Bond picture On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or the logo of Paramount Pictures, one of Hollywood’s biggest production companies, as much as they echo the sublime landscapes made popular by European Romantic painting. By deflating awe-inspiring natural imagery with the imposition of banal, consumerist text rendered in ‘no-style’, Ruscha’s painting reflects the city in which he lives, a place he once referred to as ‘the ultimate cardboard cut-out town’ (quoted in Schwartz 2004, p.244).
Alexandra Schwartz (ed.), Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2004.
Mary Richards, Ed Ruscha. Singapore 2008.
Edward Ruscha, James Ellroy, Ralph Rugoff, Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 2010.