- Edward Ruscha born 1937
- Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
- Image: 186 × 187 mm
- ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
- Presented by the artist to Tate for ARTIST ROOMS 2015
Hand Showing Book Cover 1963, printed 2011, is a black and white photograph by the American artist Ed Ruscha. It shows a hand with a watch on the wrist extending from the left-hand side of the frame and holding a book towards the camera. The words ‘TWENTYSIX GASOLINE STATIONS’ appear on the book’s cover printed in dark letters on a light background in three spaced rows. It is one of a group of sixteen photographs by Ruscha printed between 2011 and 2014 (Tate P20501–17), six of which are, like this one, 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.) While connected to other works in its subject matter, Ruscha’s decision to print this photograph nearly forty years after it was taken is evidence that it is designed to stand on its own rather than inform other projects.
The image is simple, documentary, mundane and titled accordingly, affirming Ruscha’s systematic approach to recording information, demonstrated most prominently in his career by projects such as the 1963 photobook Twentysix Gasoline Stations (Tate AL00229), the very work he is holding up in this photograph. In Twentysix Gasoline Stations (from which Standard, Figueroa 1962, printed 2012, Tate P20516, and Standard, Beverly Boulevard 1962, printed 2012, Tate P20517 are taken), he systematically recorded petrol stations along the Route 66 highway between Los Angeles and his parents’ home in Oklahoma City. From its formal similarity to works like Self-Portrait of my Forearm – 1960 1960, printed 2013 (Tate P20503), which plays on the idea of the forearm as a substitute to the face or body as a subject of portraiture, there seems also to be an autobiographical strain to this image in which the work is conflated with the artist’s identity. Since it was taken in 1963, the year Twentysix Gasoline Stations was published, there may be also be an element of celebration in the focus placed on its cover. In an interview in 2008, Ruscha underlined the importance of his photobooks, stating, ‘I felt when I got going on the books that it was really the red meat of my work. It was the choice bit. Although I was painting pictures at that time, I felt that the books were more advanced as a concept than the individual paintings I had been doing.’ (Robert Enright, ‘The Painted Whirred: Ed Ruscha’s Spin on Language’, Border Crossings, vol.27, no.2, issue 106, May 2008, p.41.)
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.
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