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

The Music from the Balconies

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’.

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Pay Nothing Until April

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’.

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HONK

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).

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ARTISTS WHO DO BOOKS

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.

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HOPE

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.

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The Final End

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.

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Miracle #64

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.

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PRETTY EYES, ELECTRIC BILLS

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.

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DIRTY BABY

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.

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Standard Study # 3

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.

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ARTISTS WHO MAKE “PIECES”

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.

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Whiskey A-Go-Go (Sunset Strip Portfolio)

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.

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DANCE?

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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The End #1

Edward Ruscha, The End #1  1993

The End #1 is a small monochrome painting with a very smooth surface, which depicts a projection of a damaged film reel positioned halfway between two frames. The work has a pale grey border and a thinner line of the same colour runs horizontally across its middle, dividing the composition into two rectangles of roughly equal sizes. These are mostly filled with a diffuse grey colour that varies in tone across the composition, and the grey paint is interrupted in many areas by long white lines and smaller black and white marks, resembling scratches and other blemishes that might appear during the projection of degraded film. The titular phrase ‘The End’ appears in both rectangles in black gothic-style lettering – once at the top of the composition, where the two words are horizontally cropped by the upper margin, and again at the bottom of the board, where they are also cropped but are more clearly visible. The inscription ‘Ed Ruscha ’93’ has been written in small grey letters towards the bottom right of the painting’s border.

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It’s Payback Time (Country Cityscapes series)

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.

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You’re A Dead Man (Country Cityscapes series)

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.

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Bliss Bucket

Edward Ruscha, Bliss Bucket  2010

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BLVD.-AVE.-ST.

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.

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HOLLYWOOD TANTRUM

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).

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DAILY PLANET

Edward Ruscha, DAILY PLANET  2003

The source for the text in DAILY PLANET is deliberately hard to pin down. It might connect with the natural imagery behind it. It is also the name of the newspaper Clark Kent writes for in the Superman comics. Ruscha has described the work’s title as ‘mysterious and teasing’. In an interview he claimed, ‘I’m empty headed in many ways, and don’t know why I follow what I follow. Like most people, I operate on an automatic mode, and everything is an involuntary reflex. Logic flies out of the window when you’re making a picture, at least it does with me. And thank God it does.’

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Filthy McNasty’s (Sunset Strip Portfolio)

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

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SMELLS LIKE BACK OF OLD HOT RADIO

Edward Ruscha, SMELLS LIKE BACK OF OLD HOT RADIO  1976

SMELLS LIKE BACK OF OLD HOT RADIO comprises the title words in white against a brown background arranged across three centred lines of bold, capitalised lettering, widely spaced apart on the paper surface. The neat letters display the untouched colour of the paper and are surrounded by dull brown pastel. The 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, the powdery pastel was rubbed into the paper by hand and with rags. A fixative was then applied to maintain the crisp division between the text and the background. After this process was completed the acetate stencils were peeled back to reveal the bare, white paper surface of the individual letters, completing the drawing. In his reliance upon the technical aids of graphic design, Ed Ruscha subverts the common understanding of drawing as a medium of creative skill and self-expression. This drawing looks more like a printed reproduction than a unique creation of the artist’s hand. The flatness of the visual field, the floating text and banal background are strongly reminiscent of advertising or film title design – both examples of endlessly reproduced mass media.

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Dog

Edward Ruscha, Dog  1995, printed and signed 1994

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7101 Sepulveda Blvd., Van Nuys

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.’

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THE END #40

Edward Ruscha, THE END #40  2003

The End #40 depicts two partial frames of a film strip at the closing credits of a motion picture, complete with celluloid scratches and the text ‘The End’ in duplicate, cropped at the top and bottom of the image. The drawing initially looks like a close-up representation of an actual piece of film; however, the sprocket perforations and soundtrack which run down a film strip’s edges are missing. The drawing therefore mimics film as it has been projected onto a cinema screen, arrested at an intermediate point between two frames so that the dividing film line is visible. The bright blue acrylic background undermines the drawing’s suggestion of celluloid; nonetheless its semi-transparent, light-filled coverage over the bright white paper does reference the forceful beam of a film projector illuminating dark cinematic space.

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DEC. 30th

Edward Ruscha, DEC. 30th  2005

By using acrylic spray paints and a custom-made stencil, Ruscha has produced a drawing which has no immediate relationship to the ‘artist’s hand’. Drawing is conventionally understood as expressive mark-making that demonstrates an artist’s feeling and skill. Ruscha disrupts that idea. The work features the famous ‘Hollywood’ sign. Ruscha makes it even more iconic than it is in real life by perching it on a mountain top. (The real sign is half way up a hill). He has said: ‘The idea of Hollywood has lots of meanings and one – to me – is this image of something fake up here being held up with sticks’.

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Blank Signs #1

Edward Ruscha, Blank Signs #1  2004

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Greenblatt’s Deli (Sunset Strip Portfolio)

Edward Ruscha, Greenblatt’s Deli (Sunset Strip Portfolio)  1976, printed 1995

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Twentysix Gasoline Stations

Edward Ruscha, Twentysix Gasoline Stations  1970

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US

Edward Ruscha, US  1995, printed and signed 1994

US is a mixographia print with stalks of grass and barley on a pale grey background, with a dark grey band across the lower edge. The title letters ‘U’ and ‘S’ occupy the centre of the frame but lean to the right. They are dark grey, in a thin serif typeface with a hazy outline. The outline takes a dark shade of grey when it is near to the body of the letter and becomes lighter as it extends away, as if radiating outward. The blur surrounding the letters does not merge with the background, instead the letters appear to occupy a foreground, which is further overlaid by the stalks of grass and barley that lean slightly from left to right. The work was made in 1996 using the mixographia technique, which allowed the artist to incorporate different materials into the printing process.

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Art in this room

The Music from the Balconies
Edward Ruscha The Music from the Balconies 1984
Pay Nothing Until April
Edward Ruscha Pay Nothing Until April 2003
HONK
Edward Ruscha HONK 1962
ARTISTS WHO DO BOOKS
Edward Ruscha ARTISTS WHO DO BOOKS 1976
HOPE
Edward Ruscha HOPE 1998
The Final End
Edward Ruscha The Final End 1992

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