The Final End belongs to a series of works by Ruscha that incorporates the phrase ‘The End’, the earliest of which dates from the early 1980s. The large, horizontally-oriented canvas used for this work evokes the proportions of a cinema screen, an association strengthened by the mottled, grey background and thin vertical streaks that call to mind the grain and patina of old film stock. The phrase ‘The End’, in a black gothic-style typeface, occupies the centre of the picture like it would in the final frame of a traditional Hollywood movie. However, long, thin, pale yellow grasses sprout from an invisible ground directly in front of the two words, partially obscuring them from view. Ruscha incorporated very similar grasses into an earlier painting also in ARTIST ROOMS, The Music from the Balconies 1984 (Tate AR01126), which depicts a grassland scene with overlaid text lifted from author J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel High-Rise, in Ruscha’s own font, ‘Boy Scout Utility Modern’. The somewhat tautological title, The Final End, implies that this is the final work in the series, an inference subsequently rendered problematic by later works such as THE END #40 2003 (Tate AR00064), produced more than a decade after this one.
The canvas was prepared by masking off the thin vertical lines before the grey acrylic paint was applied using a spray gun. The letters were delineated with the use of stencils and masking tape while the paint used for the grasses was dripped onto the canvas. A layer of gloss was applied after the all the masking was removed.
The juxtaposition of text with natural vegetation in The Final End relates to other works by Ruscha, including The Music from the Balconies. Taken on its own, however, the gothic lettering has more in common with an earlier printed work, News, Mews, Pews, Brews, Stews & Dues 1970 (Tate P20295), which uses a similar typeface. Art historian Yve-Alain Bois has suggested that this typeface connotes a ‘vague notion of Englishness’ (Bois 2005, p.63).
The Final End demonstrates Ruscha’s interest in the histories of visual culture and graphic design, and in excavating the linguistic and visual tropes that characterise popular culture. As the artist has explained: ‘I have always operated on a kind of waste-retrieval method … I retrieve and renew things that have been forgotten or wasted.’ (Schwartz 2004, p.251.) The melancholic imagery in this painting – from the mournful title phrase to the sombre colours and gothic lettering – thus could be related to Ruscha’s interest in forgotten material. Even the reeds and rushes call to mind the vegetation that often consumes ancient ruins, adding to a sense of erasure and loss.
Alexandra Schwartz (ed.), Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2004.
Yve-Alain Bois. ‘Thermometers Should Last Forever’, October, vol.111, Winter 2005, pp.60–80.
Mary Richards, Ed Ruscha, Singapore 2008.