ARTIST ROOMS Ed Ruscha: Materials

Edward Ruscha, ‘DANCE?’ 1973
Edward Ruscha
DANCE? 1973
Tate / National Galleries of Scotland
© Ed Ruscha

‘The first work that I did involving vegetable matter and organic materials came out of a frustration with materials. I wanted to expand my ideas about materials and the values they have.‘

Ed Ruscha attributes the tactile quality of materials such as paper and Higgins India Ink as the catalyst for his interest in art. As a boy he discovered art through the medium of Higgins India ink. He recalls a neighbourhood friend using this material using this material in his cartoons: ‘I had a very tactile sensation for that ink; it’s one of the strongest that has affected me as far as my interest in art.’ This fascination with the tools of the artist’s trade would continue throughout his career.

In the late 1960s Ed Ruscha began to experiment with materials creating the print portfolio Stains 1969. Among the varied substances used to create the seventy-five works on paper, which makes up the Stains portfolio, where egg yolk, turpentine, beer, salad dressing and gunpowder. Inside the portfolio case, which contains the series of prints, was one final stain: the blood of the artist. The artist’s tendency to work with unorthodox materials would continue into the 1970s.

The painting DANCE? 1973 was made using an array of materials including coffee, egg white, mustard, chilli sauce, ketchup and cheddar cheese. This work highlights Ruscha’s preoccupation not only with using unusual materials but also the symbols of American popular culture of the 1960s and 1970s, with the monosyllabic invitation to dance invoking light-hearted entertainment. The edible ingredients, which make up the painting, suggest the kind of foodstuffs that might be consumed in an American diner, and are in particular the condiments that accompany typically American fast food such as hotdogs and hamburgers.

Discuss the following quote from Ed Ruscha: ‘The nature of my interest [in materials] wasn’t in broadening horizon’s of artists’ materials; that was secondary.’

Experiment with materials when creating your text based drawing; anything that can make a mark on paper can be used. Perhaps you could start with India Ink to explore its ‘tactile’ properties.

Artist Link
Joseph Beuys uses a variety of materials in his sculptures such as beeswax, copper and felt. Beuys used materials in a different way to Ruscha, with each of these materials having very specific and personal meanings.