Edward Ruscha

Cannibus Twig Horse


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Edward Ruscha born 1937
Photograph, inkjet print on paper
Image: 127 × 127 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
Presented by the artist to Tate for ARTIST ROOMS 2015


Cannibus Twig Horse 2013 is a photograph by the American artist Ed Ruscha. Along with Twig (Tate P20514) and Cannibus Twig Warrior 2013 (Tate P20504) it takes a small twig as its subject matter, strategically placed by the artist against a white ground. Cannibus Twig Horse and Cannibus Twig Warrior depict peculiarly shaped, dried stems of cannabis plants that in their placement resemble a horse in the former and a warrior figure with an extended firearm in the latter. Twig depicts a curved twig with a tendril bent around to form an ovular shape reminiscent of a face. The curl at the end of the tendril further reinforces this, with its suggestion of a curved lock of hair falling down the side of the head. They make up part of a group of sixteen photographs by Ruscha printed between 2011 and 2014 (Tate P20501–17), six of which are from negatives produced in the 1960s (Tate P20503, P20505, P20507, P20515–17). Printed in a range of sizes and editions, they are drawn from different bodies of work and reveal the diversity of the artist’s practice in photography over the last fifty years, as well as his ongoing exploration of quintessentially American subject matter including signage and the locale of his hometown of Los Angeles. The prints dated from 2013 onwards have been produced specifically for Tate and are inscribed by hand with the words ‘Tate Proof’.

While perhaps not the best-known element of Ruscha’s practice, photography has played a crucial role in the artist’s development, influencing his painting, drawing and printmaking. The medium appealed to the artist from an early age: ‘I began to shoot pictures while I was in school, but not on a serious basis. I liked the idea that it could capture the here and now, an immediate reality that could then be appraised and put back into a painting.’ (Quoted in Jeu de Paume 2006, p.12.) More recent photographs such as these, however, are designed to stand on their own rather than inform other works.

These three photographs show Ruscha’s ability to manipulate similar, rather mundane objects for contrasting purposes. Cannibus Twig Horse and Cannibus Twig Warrior are recent examples of the artist’s characteristic sense of humour. Representative of the psychological and physiological effects of the drug cannabis, these works suggest the experience of finding amusement among friends by interpreting surroundings while under its influence, in a state of distorted vision. Titled according to the colloquial vernacular spelling of the word, rather than the botanical Latin version, they allude to the lenient approach to the drug in the state of California through a humorous juxtaposition of image and subject matter. Twig, on the other hand, has none of the same wryness. While part of the humour of the two photographs of cannabis twigs comes from the heroic and dynamic forms they evoke, the suggestion of an empty, featureless face in Twig is more contemplative. This human aspect echoes the original intention of the work, produced as it was by Ruscha in support of the Elton John AIDS Foundation which works to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic and its causes.

Further reading
Ed Ruscha: Photographer, exhibition catalogue, Jeu de Paume, Paris 2006.
Mary Richards, Ed Ruscha, London 2008.
Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 2009.

Hannah Johnston
August 2015
Arthur Goodwin
December 2018

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