- Edward Ruscha born 1937
- Lithograph on paper
- Image: 740 × 712 mm
- ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
- Presented by the artist to Tate for ARTIST ROOMS 2015
Sponge Puddle 2015 is a square lithograph by the American artist Ed Ruscha. Along with Jet Baby 2011 (Tate P20484) and Wall Rocket 2013 (Tate P20487), it shows the two-word title of the work superimposed in white text against dramatically coloured snow-capped mountain peaks. These three lithographs make up part of a larger group of eighteen works on paper printed by Ruscha between 2011 and 2015 (Tate P20484–P20501). Produced in a range of sizes and editions, they encompass techniques including lithography, mixography and etching. Drawn from different bodies of work, they reveal the artist’s aptitude as a printmaker, his ongoing exploration of signs and signage, his engagement with his hometown of Los Angeles and his humorous approach to a typically American vernacular language. Fifteen of the prints (dating from 2013 onwards) have been produced specifically for Tate and are inscribed by hand with the words ‘Tate Proof’.
Jet Baby, Wall Rocket and Sponge Puddle relate to a group of paintings and prints, begun in the 1980s, in which Ruscha superimposes texts over natural landscapes and traditional American vistas (see, for example, Pay Nothing Until April 2003, Tate AR00047; Daily Planet 2003, Tate AR00048; History Kids 2013, Tate P20391; and Periods 2013, Tate P20393). Ruscha studied graphic design at the Chouinard Art Institute (now the California Institute of the Arts) in the late 1950s and went on to work as a layout artist at a Los Angeles advertising agency. The works in this group demonstrate his experience as a graphic artist, incorporating a simple capitalised typeface of his own design. Devised and named ‘Boy Scout Utility Modern’ by the artist himself, it was based on the ‘Hollywood’ sign, which Ruscha could see from his studio on Western Avenue following his move to Los Angeles from rural Oklahoma. In these works the artist has applied it using stencils across the centre of the image like an advertising slogan, providing a counterpart to the landscape behind.
Through the conflation of image and text in the prints, the words become subjects in themselves. As Kerry Brougher stated, ‘Ruscha’s words hover between the flat, transversal surfaces of the graphic artist and the longitudinal, deep-space world of landscape painting, a semi-abstract cartoon wonderland in which words are quite recognizable but have become confused with objects in perspective.’ (Brougher 2000, p.161.) The artist himself has stated: ‘a lot of my paintings are anonymous backdrops for the drama of words’ (quoted in Richards 2008, p.79). In the same way that the ‘Hollywood’ sign is given some of its glamour and cultural association by its context in the sun-soaked Hollywood Hills, the titles of these works, seen over images of striking mountains reminiscent of those captured in the photography of Ansel Adams (1902–1984), share the dramatic force of the American landscape. The viewer is then left to ruminate on possible associations of the combinations of words. ‘Jet baby’ and ‘wall rocket’ might lead to ideas of action and modern adventure in their suggestion of machinery; the dramatic placement on a snow-capped peak of the words ‘sponge puddle’, however, with their suggestion, perhaps, of something small and soft, is more humorous.
Kerry Brougher, ‘Words as Landscape’ in Kerry Brougher and Neal Benezra, Ed Ruscha, exhibition catalogue, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. 2000.
Mary Richards, Ed Ruscha, London 2008.
Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 2009.
Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.