Edward Ruscha

Hancock (Rooftops Series #4)

1961, printed 2004

Not on display

Edward Ruscha born 1937
Silver gelatin print
Support: 778 × 778 mm
Frame: 781mm x 781mm
Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Artist Rooms Foundation 2011
On long term loan


Hancock (Rooftop Series #4) 1961, printed 2004 is a black and white photograph taken by the American artist Ed Ruscha. Taken in Ruscha’s home city of Los Angeles, the image depicts a busy street that runs into the distance from the lower left to the upper right corner of the frame. A bus, a van and several cars have stopped at an intersection to let a pedestrian cross. Ruscha captured this image from the top of a building. The rooftop he stands upon appears in the foreground of the image, taking up a third of the photograph’s lower frame. Roadsides lined with parked cars, streetlights and palm trees are visible from the high vantage point, along with an array of commercial buildings and billboard advertisements.

In 1961 Ruscha began working as a layout artist for Carson-Roberts Advertising Agency in West Hollywood, which was situated between Beverly Boulevard and North Flores Street. Hancock (Rooftop Series #4) is one of four photographs that the artist captured from the roof of this building, where he took his daily lunch break. Together the photographs provide an overview of the different areas visible to Ruscha from this spot. He shot these scenes using a lightweight 2¼-inch format Yashica camera, which he would continue to use throughout his time working in photography. Despite taking these images in the early 1960s the series remained unpublished until 2004, at which point Ruscha and art dealer Patrick Painter released Rooftop Series as a collection of limited edition prints. All four of the photographs from this series are in the ARTIST ROOMS collection (Tate AL00235AL00238).

The images in Rooftop Series were taken two years prior to the publication of Ruscha’s first photobook Twentysix Gasoline Stations 1963 (Tate Library and Archive, http://www.tate.org.uk/about/projects/transforming-artist-books/summaries/edward-ruscha-twentysix-gasoline-stations-1963, accessed 26 February 2016) yet they were not originally conceived to be published in any physical format. In the artist’s own words this series was ‘not a cohesive book idea’ (quoted in Schwartz 2010, p.125). Nonetheless the images foreground interests that characterise Ruscha’s photography of the 1960s and 1970s, such as seriality, deadpan aesthetics and architectural subjects. Ruscha’s high vantage point gives the image an overhead view, and so highlights his interest in ‘tabletop photography’ during this period. This term is often used to describe Ruscha’s preoccupation with photographing subjects from above, as can be seen in his later aerial shots of Californian parking lots (see for example State Board of Equalization, 14601 Sherman Way, Van Nuys 1967, printed 1999, Tate AL00262).

1961 was an important year for Ruscha. As well as securing his first professional post in an advertising firm, he graduated from the Chouniard Art Institute as a painter. Ruscha also spent seven months travelling around Europe with his mother and brother, where he photographed the urban environments of cities such as Amsterdam, Paris and Zurich. Describing the role of photography in his early career, Ruscha has stated: ‘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 painting’ (quoted in Rowell 2006, p.12). Rooftop Series, which he captured after completing his education in the commercial arts but before the publication of his photobooks, might be understood as a transitionary project within the context of his professional career. Ruscha may well have viewed the series as supplementary to his advertising work, given the strong role that posters and signage play in the series as a whole. However, the photographs themselves mark the emergence of aesthetic and thematic tropes that Ruscha developed throughout his productive career as a photographer.

Further reading
Margrit Rowell, Ed Ruscha: Photographer, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 2006, reproduced p.150.
Mary Richards, Ed Ruscha, London 2008, reproduced p.98.
Alexandra Schwartz, Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2010, p.130, reproduced p.129.

Aaron Shaw
University of Edinburgh
February 2016

The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.

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