The End #40 depicts two partial frames of a film strip at the closing credits of a motion picture, complete with celluloid scratches and the text ‘The End’ in duplicate, cropped at the top and bottom of the image. The drawing initially looks like a close-up representation of an actual piece of film; however, the sprocket perforations and soundtrack which run down a film strip’s edges are missing. The drawing therefore mimics film as it has been projected onto a cinema screen, arrested at an intermediate point between two frames so that the dividing film line is visible. The bright blue acrylic background undermines the drawing’s suggestion of celluloid; nonetheless its semi-transparent, light-filled coverage over the bright white paper does reference the forceful beam of a film projector illuminating dark cinematic space.
The two sets of lettering, the horizontal film line and the clusters of vertical scratches are all areas of negative space within the drawing, created by masking off against the blue acrylic spray paint, using inverse stencils to form and cover the neat serif letters and masking fluid for the irregular celluloid scratches. The inverse stencilling process is similar to that used by Ruscha in his earlier series of ‘catch-phrase’ drawings (Tate AR00053–AR00059). Masking fluid, a product used primarily with watercolours, was painted onto the paper with a brush, protecting the areas that it covered from being saturated in blue paint. It was then removed with a special eraser to reveal the lighter marks across the paper surface, much as the stencils are removed after the final coating of blue paint. The blue acrylic background has a darker, more intense coverage along the top and bottom edges of the drawing, allowing the text to stand out in far greater clarity. The stencils give a crisp lettering finish that contrasts with the looseness of the masking fluid application for the damaged film effects. There are also some marks of black paint along the left hand edge of the drawing – these look like intentional effects by the artist to further suggest the damaged and delicate nature of old celluloid film.
Ruscha has lived and worked in Los Angeles since moving to the city in 1956 at the age of eighteen. His artistic identity is intimately entwined with the city and its film industry, his work taking inspiration from the sprawling west coast metropolis and its role as producer of Hollywood myth and fantasy. Informed by the look and feel of film, The End #40 provokes an array of cinematic associations and memories. This drawing is related to a number of different paintings, prints and drawings that Ruscha executed during the 1990s and 2000s, all incorporating the text ‘The End’. The curator Ralph Rugoff’s description of Ruscha’s 1991 large-scale painting The End (The Museum of Modern Art, New York) confirms the close similarities between works in the series; it states that The End is: ‘one of a series of canvases that portray scratched and scarred end titles from old movies, pay[ing] tribute to the imminent obsolescence of film technology. Its split composition presents fragments of two successive film frames, featuring the title phrase in a Gothic typeface … the distressed surfaces of the film frames evoke the reality of material decay.’ (Rugoff 2009, pp.23–4.) The Old English typeface, similar to that used on the masthead of The New York Times, can also be seen in the two other ‘The End’ works in Tate (Tate T07512) and ARTIST ROOMS (Tate AR00596). The End #40 is distinguished from these works by its thin, serif typeface, which is similarly old-fashioned in appearance. The artist’s interest in the role of text in film and the evocation of outmoded filmic visuals is also seen in his work on paper Dirty Baby 1977 (Tate AR00058), where the drawing of the two-word title is given the intense care and attention seen in the elaborate hand-drawn lettering and fonts of movie title designs from the golden age of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. The writer and curator Alexandra Schwartz has noted that Ruscha was an enthusiastic moviegoer as a child in Oklahoma City, and that: ‘Upon arriving in Los Angeles in the late 1950s, he continued to frequent the cinema, his favorite being old Hollywood movies’; indeed, the artist confirms this fact, saying: ‘Old movies, because of their age, were appealing to me. The imagery that comes from it and the flaws and scratches all became part of my interest in the whole thing. They are moving pictures. It’s a profound medium, not unlike painting. Painting is all static but movies … they move.’ (Quoted in Schwartz 2010, p.92.)
The writer Mary Richards has also discussed the artist’s engagement with cinematic subject matter in ‘The End’ series, stating: ‘Just as Ruscha is interested in the “object” quality of words, these works show a fascination for the material aspects of cinema. The idea of “scratches on the film” recalls 1960s works by experimental film-makers such as Stan Brakhage and Bruce Conner, whose scratched, painted and collaged negatives created extraordinary visual effects.’ (Richards 2008, p.119.) Richards thus links Ruscha’s interest in the physical properties of film, a medium increasingly obsolete in the face of digital video and other movie-making technologies, to experimental film works contemporaneous with the very beginning of Ruscha’s career, when film was a flourishing medium of newly-discovered artistic potential. The theme of obsolescence also connects the ever more archaic medium of film with the inherently delicate and light-sensitive paper support of drawing.
Mary Richards, Ed Ruscha, London 2008.
Ralph Rugoff, ‘Heavenly Noises’, in Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 2009, pp.11–27.
Alexandra Schwartz, ‘Hollywood Signs’, in Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London 2010, pp.65–115.