Edward Ruscha: The tension of words and images

Ed began his career as a layout artist at a Los Angeles advertising agency in the late 1950s

Ed Ruscha continued to draw on his advertising background, producing works that demonstrate an ongoing interest in typography, signage and the West Coast of the United States.

He creates paintings in which text is superimposed over landscapes and traditional American vistas, where the bold lettering is in complete opposition to the idyllic, idealised and somewhat kitsch representations of the images.

Through this playful and characteristically enigmatic conflation of image and text, Ruscha explores the viewer's interpretation of language and transforms the words into subjects in themselves.

Los Angeles had a lot to do with my feeling about art in the world and everything. I came from a sort of almost backward place in Oklahoma. When I came to California it was very sparkly, glamorous, so it was like a new world to me, an accelerated culture that I responded to. The real vitality for me is to be in my own studio in my own environment. I'm constantly moving wherever I work. I might work here for a while and then I'll move this to somewhere else. Sometimes I’ll work on four or five things at the same time, to the point where I don’t know what direction I'm going in, but that’s also exhilarating at the same time.

I think I centred on words because, first of all, they had no size so if I painted the word 'boss' I could paint it that big or I could paint it that big. I liked that, that you could be realistic and at the same time not be bound by any kind of size reference. I also liked the left to right kind of thing. You know, our eyes are like this and we read like this and landscapes are like this. I had a studio in Western Avenue in Hollywood and I would walk outside, I'd look up in the hills, and there was the Hollywood sign. Looking at that every day I just thought, well, I should make a comment on it. It's also got these things left to right, it's got those words, it's got those letters, and it also had that sort of corny magic to it. Just the idea of Hollywood, it's always been a potent symbol.

Backgrounds to me are simply just that - backgrounds. They're more like stage settings. It can almost be like elevator music where you're just accenting or you're setting a stage or setting a tone for a given subject.

I use stencils too. See, this is a stencil here. That’s not even a finished work but it begins to make a kind of lively picture. It's hard to read that but it says, 'car parts'. I like the tension of having a combination of words or word in front of something that is also lively in itself, like a mountaintop. A lot of these mountaintops, they suggest glory or beauty, things like that. They almost have their own orchestration, you can almost hear trumpets playing, and I like that reference. It's sort of a non-verbal way of referencing something that is really not making any noise at all.

But then, putting combination with words, that tension is where I live, I guess.

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