US is a mixographia print with stalks of grass and barley on a pale grey background, with a dark grey band across the lower edge. The title letters ‘U’ and ‘S’ occupy the centre of the frame but lean to the right. They are dark grey, in a thin serif typeface with a hazy outline. The outline takes a dark shade of grey when it is near to the body of the letter and becomes lighter as it extends away, as if radiating outward. The blur surrounding the letters does not merge with the background, instead the letters appear to occupy a foreground, which is further overlaid by the stalks of grass and barley that lean slightly from left to right. The work was made in 1996 using the mixographia technique, which allowed the artist to incorporate different materials into the printing process.
The text of US is ambiguous. The letters may be read as the acronym for the United States, or alternatively, simply as the pronoun ‘us’. In any case the sparse leaning stalks and muted colour palette give the print a forlorn quality, gesturing perhaps to a relationship that has gone to seed, or to a barren pastoral scene. The addition of the grass and barley into the frame transforms the otherwise abstract pictorial space into a landscape, suggesting that the dark grey band be read as a ground and the lighter expanse above as sky. In this way the work contrasts with much of Ruscha’s practice, in which rural settings function as backdrops for text. The artist’s use of the mixographia technique meant that natural materials could be introduced into the composition, creating a textured surface across which the thin lines of text and narrow stalks merge – quite unlike the flat, stylised alpine vistas in works like Pay Nothing Until April 2003 (Tate AR00047) and Daily Planet 2003 (Tate AR00048).
US also has a cinematic quality. The hazy monochromatic colour-scheme is suggestive of black and white cinematography and the distinction between the crisp foreground grasses and the fuzzy background letters is reminiscent of a camera’s focus. The work bears comparison to Ruscha’s painting The Final End 1992 (Tate AR00596), that also appears overgrown with grasses and, with its text ‘The End’, references the final frames of a film. Ruscha has long had a fascination with cinema and its material properties. Several of his works include the word ‘Hollywood’ (for example, HOLLYWOOD TANTRUM 1979, Tate AR00059 and Dec. 30th 2005, Tate AR00065), and many of his compositions are distinctly cinematic, often taking on the format of widescreen cinema, as in The Final End.
Alexandra Schwartz, Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2010.
Richard D. Marshall, Ed Ruscha, London 2003.
Mary Richards, Ed Ruscha, London 2008.
The University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.