ARTIST ROOMS Ed Ruscha: Literature

Edward Ruscha, ‘The Music from the Balconies’ 1984
Edward Ruscha
The Music from the Balconies 1984
Tate / National Galleries of Scotland
© Edward Ruscha

‘I read what I want to read. I think most people do that. Or I read what I want to see.’

The words Ed Ruscha uses in his work come from a variety of sources including books which occasionally suggest images to him: ‘I’ve done a few paintings using verbatim words from certain sections of books. Of course the words I use come from every source. Sometimes they happen on the radio and sometimes in conversations. I’ve had ideas come to me literally in my sleep and I tend to believe on blind faith, that I feel obliged to use.’

Ruscha is an admirer of the British writer J.G. Ballard and the American writers Don DeLillo and Tom McGuane. He has said that Ballard ‘cuts open the belly of what’s going on and everything falls out.’ Ballard’s transgressive fiction is associated with dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.

In his painting The Music from the Balconies 1984 Ruscha uses text from J.G. Ballard’s novel High Rise 1975. The novel, set in a high rise, is the tale of urban disillusionment where society slips into a violent reverse as the isolated inhabitants of the high-rise, driven by primal urges, recreate a dystopian world ruled by the laws of the jungle. In The Music from the Balconies Ruscha juxtaposes a beautiful landscape and serene skyline layered with the dark and unsettling quote “The Music from the Balconies Nearby Was Overlaid by the Noise of Sporadic Acts of Violence”. This juxtaposition seems itself an act of violence, overlying the tranquil landscape with the wordy Ballard quote.

In The Music from the Balconies Ruscha juxtaposes a rural landscape with text from a novel associated with urban life. Discuss your ideas about why Ruscha might be making associations between the two.

Think about a piece of text or literature you like and an image, which is at odds with the text. Carefully select a font style using word art and superimpose it on to images showing objects, that are large in scale’, so it reads: ‘showing objects that are large in scale e.g. tower blocks, hills, bridges, buildings, and billboards.

Artist Link
Ed Ruscha is an admirer of Sir John Everett MillaisOphelia 1951-2, which is inspired by William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and has described the painting as ‘an inspiration for what I’m doing’.