Edward Ruscha, ‘Pay Nothing Until April’ 2003
Edward Ruscha, Pay Nothing Until April 2003 . ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland . © Ed Ruscha

ARTIST ROOMS Ed Ruscha

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Art in Ed Ruscha

Pay Nothing Until April

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Edward Ruscha
Pay Nothing Until April
2003

Ruscha has stencilled the seemingly unrelated text ‘PAY NOTHING UNTIL APRIL’ on top of snow-capped mountains. Awe-inspiring natural imagery meets banal, consumerist text. Ruscha, who studied graphic design, invented the typeface, which is inspired by the Hollywood sign. He calls it ‘Boy Scout Utility Modern’, and has described it as ‘no-style’. Of the dramatic scenery he has commented that they are not realistic depictions: ‘They’re ideas of mountains, picturing some kind of unobtainable bliss or glory … tall, dangerous and beautiful’.

Gallery label, July 2019

The Music from the Balconies

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Edward Ruscha
The Music from the Balconies
1984

Ruscha is an admirer of the British writer J.G. Ballard. The text painted over the scene here is a line from Ballard’s 1975 dystopian novel High Rise. Ballard’s vision of a dark futuristic urban environment contrasts with the idyllic rural sunset depicted in the painting. For Ruscha, ‘the phrase was a powerful thought coupled with a pictorial idea that ends in a gentle kind of clash’.

Gallery label, July 2019

It’s Payback Time (Country Cityscapes series)

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Edward Ruscha
It’s Payback Time (Country Cityscapes series)
2001

The titles of the works in this series are not visible in the images, but appear to have been blanked out, obscuring the landscape behind. These titles are aggressive cowboy catch-phrases from the Western movie genre. Ruscha suggests how cultural stereotypes affect the way we see the North American landscape. These clichés are often generated in mass-media producing cities, such as Los Angeles.

Gallery label, July 2019

Pool #9

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Edward Ruscha
Pool #9
1968, printed 1997

This image was included in Ruscha’s artist’s book Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass 1968. This was Ruscha’s first colour photographic series. As the title indicates, the book includes nine photographs of pools and one of a broken glass tumbler, placed at the end almost like the punchline of an absurd visual joke. This series continues Ruscha’s project of documenting the Los Angeles landscape. All the pools are located at low-budget motels. These highly artificial leisure spaces can be seen as symbolic of Southern California’s ‘easy living’ culture.

Gallery label, July 2019

HONK

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Edward Ruscha
HONK
1962

HONK depicts its title word in diagonally-inclined, capitalised serif typography. The letters are filled in with a bright yellow acrylic paint and sit in front of a rich, dark blue background, trailing an area of deep red that is perpendicular to the yellow lettering, giving a suggestion of depth within the picture plane. The diagonal slant on which the word ‘HONK’ is aligned roughly slices the picture in half, from the top left to bottom right corner. This is a compositional device also used by the artist in Standard Study # 3 1963 (Tate AR00050). Ruscha studied graphic design at the Chouinard Art Institute (now California Institute of the Arts) in the late 1950s, and later worked as a layout artist at a Los Angeles advertising agency. In the same year that this drawing was made, Ruscha was included in the exhibition New Painting of Common Objects at Pasadena Art Museum, generally regarded as the first museum exhibition of pop art, alongside artists such as Andy Warhol (1928–87) and Roy Lichtenstein (1923–97).

DIRTY BABY

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Edward Ruscha
DIRTY BABY
1977

In this drawing, the words ‘DIRTY BABY’ stand out in large grey capital letters against a black ground. Ruscha created the words by carefully drawing and contouring individual letters rather than by using stencils, making this work unique within his group of ‘catch-phrase’ drawings dating from the late 1970s in ARTIST ROOMS (Tate AR00053–AR00059). Centrally aligned on the page, the outlines of the letters are slightly irregular, as if each one had been cut by hand from an undulating piece of paper and placed against a matte background (Marshall 2003, p.162). Each letter was drawn on the page in graphite, before black acrylic emulsion was painted around them, covering the entire background. This layer of emulsion is thick and impenetrable, with no visible brushstrokes. The drawing’s dense background is balanced by the lightness of Ruscha’s touch within the lettering. Black pastel is applied in smudges to create rippling shadows inside the letters, making them a patchy, smoky grey. The letters therefore appear to be ‘dirty’ like the ‘baby’ of the title. The slight illusion of three-dimensionality is the result of the artist’s precise draughtsmanship which paradoxically leaves almost no trace of his hand. This work is reminiscent of Ruscha’s ‘cut paper’ single word drawings in gunpowder produced in the 1960s (Richards 2008, pp.44–5), which similarly evoke the historical technique of trompe l’oeil, literally ‘to trick the eye’, with skilled shading, light effects and the conjuring of three-dimensions from a flat paper surface.

ARTISTS WHO DO BOOKS

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Edward Ruscha
ARTISTS WHO DO BOOKS
1976

The white words ‘ARTISTS WHO DO BOOKS’ stand out against an intensely dark black pastel background, giving this drawing a stark appearance. The letters were not outlined by hand but were positioned on the white paper using acetate stencils in the sans serif typeface. Once these inverse stencils were in place, the powdery pastel was rubbed into the paper by hand and with rags to achieve a dense but smooth finish. A fixative was then applied to maintain the crisp division between text and background, before the acetate stencils were peeled back to reveal the bare, white paper surface of the individual letters. In his reliance upon the technical aids of graphic design, Ruscha subverts the common understanding of drawing as a medium of creative skill and self-expression. This mechanical efficiency echoes the subject matter of the drawing: artists producing books of printed material in multiple editions, as opposed to creating unique works of art.

Standard Study # 3

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Edward Ruscha
Standard Study # 3
1963

Ruscha presents a simplified image of a petrol station in a wide horizontal format, reminiscent of a cinema screen. ‘Standard’ is the name of an oil company. In 1963 Ruscha made the photographic book Twentysix Gasoline Stations, shown in another room of this display. This drawing is one of a number works that arose from the photographic project.

Gallery label, July 2019

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Edward Ruscha
Our Flag
2017

Ruscha has painted American flags several times throughout his career. With his earlier flags, from the 1980s, he chose the subject because of their status as common objects and instantly recognisable symbols. He returned to the subject several years later. Now the flag is torn and damaged, showing the passage of time. This may also be interpreted as a comment on the divisive nature of recent political events. Of this work Ruscha has said ‘any flag that flies for 250 years is bound to get a little ragged and tattered, especially if we help it along.’

Gallery label, July 2019

Miracle #64

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Edward Ruscha
Miracle #64
1975

Ruscha made a series of Miracle drawings in the mid-1970s. In these pastel drawings beams of light appear to burst forth from dark backgrounds. ‘Shafts of light and the word “Miracle” have always been synonymous,’ the artist has commented. Miracle is also the title of a short film Ruscha made in 1975. The beam of light in his picture could be seen as that of a cinema projector, referring to the miracle of moving pictures.

Gallery label, July 2019

HOPE

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Edward Ruscha
HOPE
1998

The visual appearance of this work is in tension with the meaning and associations of its title. Black and blue paint, applied with a spray gun, seems to be in the process of obliterating the word ‘HOPE’. The effect of the paint particles across the paper surface is reminiscent of dirt on a vehicle or even blood spatter from a gunshot wound. HOPE’s large-scale and horizontal format relate it to advertising billboards, a longstanding visual interest of Ruscha’s.

Gallery label, July 2019

PRETTY EYES, ELECTRIC BILLS

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Edward Ruscha
PRETTY EYES, ELECTRIC BILLS
1976

This drawing comprises a seven-word phrase that slightly, but significantly, expands upon the work’s four-word title. The text ‘SOME PRETTY EYES AND SOME ELECTRIC BILLS’ is arranged over three centred lines of three, then one, then three words, in the top half of the horizontally aligned sheet of paper. The neat letters display the untouched, off-white colour of the paper and are surrounded by a bright blue pastel background. These letters were not outlined by hand but were positioned on the paper using acetate stencils in the sans serif typeface. Once these inverse stencils were in place, the powdery pastel background was rubbed into the paper by hand and with rags, so that the white paper shows through in places to create an impression of diffuse light behind the particles of blue pastel. A fixative was then applied to maintain the crisp division between the text and the background, before the acetate stencils were peeled back to reveal the bare, white paper surface of the individual letters. In his reliance upon the technical aids of graphic design, Ruscha subverts the common understanding of drawing as a medium of creative skill and self-expression. This mechanical severity is then purposefully undermined by the sensuous application of pastel, a traditional medium of fine art, together with its hazy blue colour which brings to mind a bright sunny sky and the drawing’s horizontal format which also has a landscape association.

ARTISTS WHO MAKE “PIECES”

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Edward Ruscha
ARTISTS WHO MAKE “PIECES”
1976

This is a drawing comprising the words ‘ARTISTS WHO MAKE “PIECES”’ in white against a red and orange coloured ground. These letters were not outlined by hand but were positioned on the white paper using acetate stencils in the sans serif typeface. Once these inverse stencils were in place, the powdery pastel was rubbed into the paper by hand and with rags, so that the white paper would show through in places to create an impression of diffuse light behind the particles of red and orange pastel. A fixative was then applied to maintain the crisp division between text and background, before the acetate stencils were peeled back to reveal the bare, white paper surface of the individual letters. In his reliance upon the technical aids of graphic design, Ruscha subverts the common understanding of drawing as a medium of creative skill and self-expression.

The Final End

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Edward Ruscha
The Final End
1992

Here the phrase ‘The End’, in a black gothic-style typeface, occupies the centre of the picture like it would in the final frame of an old Hollywood movie. The format of the canvas echoes the proportions of a cinema screen. This association is reinforced by the grey background and thin vertical streaks that suggest marks on old film stock. However, long, thin, pale yellow grasses sprout from an invisible ground in front of the words, obscuring them from view. The Final End demonstrates Ruscha’s interest in the histories of visual culture and graphic design. The work and its title may express sadness about the passing away of certain beloved aspects of popular culture.

Gallery label, July 2019

Whiskey A-Go-Go (Sunset Strip Portfolio)

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Edward Ruscha
Whiskey A-Go-Go (Sunset Strip Portfolio)
1976, printed 1995

Whiskey A-Go-Go (Sunset Strip Portfolio) 1966, printed 1995 is a black and white photograph by the American artist Ed Ruscha. The image depicts the famous Los Angeles nightclub Whiskey A-Go-Go, which occupied a corner of the intersection between Sunset Boulevard and North Clark Street. This building, with its façade detailed with windows and posters, takes up much of the image. A small stretch of sky, a distant building, a portion of the road, and the rear of a car are visible to the right and towards the bottom of the frame. Black and white scratches interrupt the image in irregular vertical strips. They contrast with the otherwise horizontal format of the photograph and offer it a grid-like quality.

Pool #2

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Edward Ruscha
Pool #2
1968, printed 1997

This image was included in Ruscha’s artist’s book Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass 1968. This was Ruscha’s first colour photographic series. As the title indicates, the book includes nine photographs of pools and one of a broken glass tumbler, placed at the end almost like the punchline of an absurd visual joke. This series continues Ruscha’s project of documenting the Los Angeles landscape. All the pools are located at low-budget motels. These highly artificial leisure spaces can be seen as symbolic of Southern California’s ‘easy living’ culture.

Gallery label, July 2019

DANCE?

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Edward Ruscha
DANCE?
1973

DANCE? highlights Ruscha’s interest in North American popular culture from the 1960s and 1970s. He created it with unusual materials including coffee, egg white and mustard. These foodstuffs are commonly associated with diners and fast food. The simple invitation to dance invokes light-hearted entertainment.

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You’re A Dead Man (Country Cityscapes series)

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Edward Ruscha
You’re A Dead Man (Country Cityscapes series)
2001

The titles of the works in this series are not visible in the images, but appear to have been blanked out, obscuring the landscape behind. These titles are aggressive cowboy catch-phrases from the Western movie genre. Ruscha suggests how cultural stereotypes affect the way we see the North American landscape. These clichés are often generated in mass-media producing cities, such as Los Angeles.

Gallery label, July 2019

BLVD.-AVE.-ST.

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Edward Ruscha
BLVD.-AVE.-ST.
2006

This image evokes the concrete and grid-like structure of urban Los Angeles. The large scale of the canvas also implies the vastness of the city’s urban sprawl. Abbreviations of ‘boulevard’, ‘avenue’ and ‘street’ are the only indications of a human element. In contrast to the grey hues, the bright orange and red of the horizon adds the suggestion of a Technicolor movie to an otherwise stark painting.

Gallery label, July 2019

Pool #7

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Edward Ruscha
Pool #7
1968, printed 1997

This image was included in Ruscha’s artist’s book Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass 1968. This was Ruscha’s first colour photographic series. As the title indicates, the book includes nine photographs of pools and one of a broken glass tumbler, placed at the end almost like the punchline of an absurd visual joke. This series continues Ruscha’s project of documenting the Los Angeles landscape. All the pools are located at low-budget motels. These highly artificial leisure spaces can be seen as symbolic of Southern California’s ‘easy living’ culture.

Gallery label, July 2019

7101 Sepulveda Blvd., Van Nuys

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Edward Ruscha
7101 Sepulveda Blvd., Van Nuys
1967, printed 1999

This aerial shot turns an urban landscape into an abstract geometric design. Ruscha captured empty Los Angeles car parks from a helicopter early one Sunday morning in 1967, before any cars had arrived. From above the city appears silent and lifeless. Ruscha brought the images together into an artist’s book, Thirtyfour Parking Lots 1967. In 1999 he returned to the series, presenting the images as a photographic portfolio. He said, ‘over the years I began to appreciate print quality and see my photographs as not necessarily reproductions for a book, but as having their own life as silver gelatin prints.’

Gallery label, July 2019

HOLLYWOOD TANTRUM

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Edward Ruscha
HOLLYWOOD TANTRUM
1979

The large-scale text of this drawing’s two-word title occupies the central third of the paper, the word ‘HOLLYWOOD’ almost completely spanning its horizontal axis. The neat letters display the untouched white of the paper, surrounded by a purple pastel background. These letters were not outlined by hand but were positioned on the paper with preparatory pencil markings before acetate stencils, in the sans serif typeface, were laid on the paper. Once these inverse stencils were in place, masking off the letters, Ruscha covered the paper surface with the pastel background. A fixative was then applied to maintain the crisp division between text and background, before the acetate stencils were peeled back to reveal the bare paper surface of the individual letters. In his reliance upon the technical aids of graphic design, Ed Ruscha subverts the common understanding of drawing as a preparatory medium of creative skill and self-expression. However, in HOLLYWOOD TANTRUM, the precision of the stencil technique is undercut by the fluidity of the pale purple background against which the letters stand out clearly. This background reflects one of the artist’s key technical experiments of this period, namely the loose, haphazard application of organic materials (such as foodstuffs) in his works on paper, as in the portfolio Stains 1969 (Tate T12449).

Noose Around Your Neck (Country Cityscapes series)

© Edward Ruscha

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Edward Ruscha
Noose Around Your Neck (Country Cityscapes series)
2001

The titles of the works in this series are not visible in the images, but appear to have been blanked out, obscuring the landscape behind. These titles are aggressive cowboy catch-phrases from the Western movie genre. Ruscha suggests how cultural stereotypes affect the way we see the North American landscape. These clichés are often generated in mass-media producing cities, such as Los Angeles.

Gallery label, July 2019

Pool #6

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Edward Ruscha
Pool #6
1968, printed 1997

This image was included in Ruscha’s artist’s book Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass 1968. This was Ruscha’s first colour photographic series. As the title indicates, the book includes nine photographs of pools and one of a broken glass tumbler, placed at the end almost like the punchline of an absurd visual joke. This series continues Ruscha’s project of documenting the Los Angeles landscape. All the pools are located at low-budget motels. These highly artificial leisure spaces can be seen as symbolic of Southern California’s ‘easy living’ culture.

Gallery label, July 2019

Be Careful... You Hear Me? (Country Cityscapes series)

© Edward Ruscha

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Edward Ruscha
Be Careful... You Hear Me? (Country Cityscapes series)
2001

The titles of the works in this series are not visible in the images, but appear to have been blanked out, obscuring the landscape behind. These titles are aggressive cowboy catch-phrases from the Western movie genre. Ruscha suggests how cultural stereotypes affect the way we see the North American landscape. These clichés are often generated in mass-media producing cities, such as Los Angeles.

Gallery label, July 2019

Do As Told or Suffer (Country Cityscapes series)

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Edward Ruscha
Do As Told or Suffer (Country Cityscapes series)
2001

The titles of the works in this series are not visible in the images, but appear to have been blanked out, obscuring the landscape behind. These titles are aggressive cowboy catch-phrases from the Western movie genre. Ruscha suggests how cultural stereotypes affect the way we see the North American landscape. These clichés are often generated in mass-media producing cities, such as Los Angeles.

Gallery label, July 2019

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Edward Ruscha
Me
1999

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Edward Ruscha
Jet Baby
2011

Jet Baby 2011, is a square lithograph by the American artist Ed Ruscha. Along with Wall Rocket 2013 (Tate P20487) and Sponge Puddle 2015 (Tate P20501), 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’.

Filthy McNasty’s (Sunset Strip Portfolio)

© Edward Ruscha

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Edward Ruscha
Filthy McNasty’s (Sunset Strip Portfolio)
1976, printed 1995

Art in this room

Pay Nothing Until April
Edward Ruscha Pay Nothing Until April 2003
The Music from the Balconies
Edward Ruscha The Music from the Balconies 1984
It’s Payback Time (Country Cityscapes series)
Edward Ruscha It’s Payback Time (Country Cityscapes series) 2001
Pool #9
Edward Ruscha Pool #9 1968, printed 1997
HONK
Edward Ruscha HONK 1962
DIRTY BABY
Edward Ruscha DIRTY BABY 1977

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