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Irving Blum Gallery, Los Angeles
Private Collection, United States (acquired from the above in 1967)
Phillips, New York, March 3, 2015, lot 5
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Lisa Turvey, Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Works on Paper, Volume 1: 1956-1976, New Haven, 2014, no. D1967.96, p. 213
"I am observing that these words, which sometimes represent objects and meanings, are made of these squiggly little forms we call an alphabet." Ed Ruscha
Cherry from 1967 is a pristine example from one of Ruscha’s most iconic series of drawings rendered with gunpowder applied to paper. Not entirely satisfied with the visual results he was achieving using graphite and oil paint, Ruscha happened upon a gunpowder canister, and as he explained, “I thought well that's a powder, like charcoal and like graphite, and why can't that be used?" The umber and smoky surfaces of Ruscha’s gunpowder drawings premiered in the late 1960s, billowing white text floats across a seemingly endless panorama of charcoal hued gunpowder. In these trompe-l’oeil pictures, three-dimensional words surpass their physicality and shed their verbal and oral meaning: they are transformed from text to compositional motifs inhabiting their own visual realm.
Ruscha began exploring the representative power of seemingly artificial words and phrases in 1966, gleaning from his Los Angeles surroundings the different fonts and text snippets he observed from billboards and absorbed from his car radio. Words were freed from their contextual, linguistic constraints; as Ruscha explained “I began to see books and book design, typography, as a real inspiration. So I got a job with a book printer. He taught me how to set type, and then I started to see the beauty of typography and letter-forms.” (Edward Ruscha quoted in Martin Gayford, The Telegraph, September 2009) His graphic design training is incredibly important to his strategic combination of font, hue and compositional placement. His desire to transform a word into a picture, as he explains, is like a word “almost leaving its body then coming back and becoming a word again.” The methods in which he chooses to render his selected text is also an artistic investigation into alternative mediums; along with gunpowder he also explored coffee, vegetable juices and rose petals to extract their recognizable hues. Gunpowder proved most successful: by soaking gunpowder pellets in water to filter out the salts, "it left a charcoal that had a kind of a warm tone to it," Ruscha remarked, "and it could be used in a way that was very easy to correct when you wanted to... And so it became a convenient material, and a material that I liked. It had a good surface to it." (Ed Ruscha,"Interview with Ed Ruscha," Oral History Program, Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York, 24 January 2012, p. 42) The gunpowder drawings, Ruscha’s most striking works on paper, resonate with a hazy tactility created by the artist’s use of cotton balls and Q-tips to rub the gunpowder into the paper fibers. The melodious letters were created using text stencils, while masking tape assisted with sharpening the curvy edges of the scripted font.
Cascading across the sheet, Cherry twirls in creamy white through shades of grisaille. The powdery substance delivers a hypnotic, dreamlike landscape, upon which his elegant ribbon script rolls across like the opening credits to a 1930s black and white film. Cherry offers only a hint of its own verbal/visual meaning: cherry pie or cherry soda or the female sex? All allude to an underlying theme of Americana and pop imagery connected to both food and sex. Cherry has been imprinted on Ruscha’s memory from print culture and advertising billboards. His work, including Cherry, serves as a visual encyclopedia of the transient mottos and slang of American culture and commerce, and, according to the artist, must be captured immediately, “otherwise it will slip away from me, disappear.” (Ed Ruscha quoted in Margit Rowell, Cotton Puffs, Q-Tips©, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2004, p. 15)
American • 1937
Quintessentially American, Ed Ruscha is an L.A.-based artist whose art, like California itself, is both geographically rooted and a metaphor for an American state of mind. Ruscha is a deft creator of photography, film, painting, drawing, prints and artist books, whose works are simultaneously unexpected and familiar, both ironic and sincere.
His most iconic works are at turns poetic and deadpan, epigrammatic text with nods to advertising copy, juxtaposed with imagery that is either cinematic and sublime or seemingly wry documentary. Whether the subject is his iconic Standard Gas Station or the Hollywood Sign, a parking lot or highway, his works are a distillation of American idealism, echoing the expansive Western landscape and optimism unique to postwar America.
New York Auction 18 May 2017