The End #1 is a small monochrome painting with a very smooth surface, which depicts a projection of a damaged film reel positioned halfway between two frames. The work has a pale grey border and a thinner line of the same colour runs horizontally across its middle, dividing the composition into two rectangles of roughly equal sizes. These are mostly filled with a diffuse grey colour that varies in tone across the composition, and the grey paint is interrupted in many areas by long white lines and smaller black and white marks, resembling scratches and other blemishes that might appear during the projection of degraded film. The titular phrase ‘The End’ appears in both rectangles in black gothic-style lettering – once at the top of the composition, where the two words are horizontally cropped by the upper margin, and again at the bottom of the board, where they are also cropped but are more clearly visible. The inscription ‘Ed Ruscha ’93’ has been written in small grey letters towards the bottom right of the painting’s border.
This work was made by the American artist Edward Ruscha in 1993 when he was living and working in Venice in Los Angeles, California. The painting is one of a large group of works by Ruscha that depict projections of damaged films and feature the words ‘The End’ in both their compositions and their titles, suggesting that they each show the final frame of a film. It is not clear when Ruscha started or completed this group, but he had begun work on it by 1991, when the painting The End (Museum of Modern Art, New York) was made, and continued until at least 2006, when he produced The End #66 (private collection).
It is likely that The End #1 was created by spraying paint onto the board with an airbrush. Ruscha used this technique in many of his works from the 1980s onwards (see, for instance, Untitled (Galleon Ship Silhouette) 1981) and called it ‘strokeless painting’ due to the extremely smooth finish that it produced (Ruscha in ‘Ed Ruscha on his Silhouette Paintings’, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, July 2004, http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/multimedia/videos/200, accessed 14 January 2015). The straight lines around the work’s edge and across its middle may have been achieved by covering these parts with masking tape before applying the paint, a method that was also used for another painting in the series, The Final End 1992 (Tate AR00596).
Ruscha explained in 2012 that he intended the group of works that includes The End #1 to evoke ‘scratches on … film’, claiming that while such marks are usually incidental, and most viewers prefer not to see them, he ‘always liked’ them (Ruscha in Cherix 2012, p.62). In an earlier interview, given in 1998, Ruscha had stated that for him ‘seeing things age is a form of beauty’ (Ruscha in Tracy Bartly, ‘Seeing Things Age is a Form of Beauty: A Conversation with Ed Ruscha’, in Ed Ruscha, Leave Any Information at the Signal, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1998, p.358). However, in 2012 Ruscha claimed that his references to damaged film reels may eventually become dated themselves, as ‘people in the future will not understand what I was after … they’ll clean up things like that. There won’t be such a thing as scratches on the film’ (quoted in Cherix 2012, p.62). With this in mind, The End #1 could be seen to convey a sense of nostalgia for early forms of cinema and a concern over their impending obsolescence.
The curator Ralph Rugoff has argued that The End #1 and the other paintings in this group form part of an ‘engagement with the idea of decay and decline’ that has become central to Ruscha’s work since the mid-1980s (Ralph Rugoff, ‘Heavenly Noises’, in Hayward Gallery 2009, p.23). This may explain the artist’s use of the phrase ‘The End’ throughout this group. With reference to Ruscha’s evocation of degrading film reels, Rugoff writes that the artist’s use of an airbrush to make extremely flat, ‘strokeless’ paintings
pointedly dovetails with the atmosphere of erasure and information loss that haunts these works. With their velvety sootiness conveying a softening of focus (and an entropic rise in noise levels), these pictures speak to a fading of collective memory, or alternatively, to a spectral aspect of an increasingly homogenised and indifferent contemporary landscape.
(Rugoff 2009, p.23.)
Cotton Puffs, Q-Tips, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 2004, reproduced p.239.
Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 2009, p.23.
Christophe Cherix, ‘Interview with Ed Ruscha’, Museum of Modern Art Oral History Program, 24 January 2012, http://www.moma.org/momaorg/shared/pdfs/docs/learn/archives/transcript_ruscha.pdf, accessed 14 January 2015, pp.62–3.
Supported by Christie’s.