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£250,000 - 350,000
sold for £273,000
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers Galerie, Munich
The Sender Collection, New York
Sotheby's, London, 26 June 2013, lot 2
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Munich, Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers Galerie, Ed Ruscha: Gunpowder and Stains, 6 May - 17 June 2000, pp. 24-25 and p. 60 (illustrated)
Edward Ruscha, They Called Her Styrene, London, 2000, n.p (illustrated)
Lisa Turvey and Harry Cooper, Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Works on Paper, Volume 1: 1956–1976, New York, 2014, no. D1975.47, p. 400 (illustrated)
Depicting solitary gas stations, sprawling Hollywood boulevards and cinematic Californian landscapes, Ed Ruscha’s prolific artistic output has become as recognisable as the surroundings that the artist has chosen to study. Drawing upon logos, adverts and other quintessentially Pop emblems, Ruscha’s slick canvasses explore and manipulate the resonance of individual words or phrases. Choosing perhaps one of the most religiously provocative subjects, the Devil, Ruscha’s powerful work on paper also demonstrates his pioneering exploration of unconventional and organic mediums. The present work is a significant example from his Stain series, and belongs to one of only seven known works executed between 1975 and 1977 in which Ruscha mastered the application of blackberry juice to create an exquisite surface quality. The refreshing and tactile paper texture, combined with the razor sharp execution of his selected word, Devil, converge in a paradoxical and intriguing marriage of conflicting connotations and associations. It is this biting wit and erudite handling of concept and materials which makes Devil exemplary of Ruscha’s works on paper.
Ruscha’s ambitious experimentation with organic materials cemented the esteemed artist’s innovations as a distinctive canonical moment in twentieth century art, thus making his works from the sixties and seventies particularly exciting. Ruscha perfected the use of unusual mediums in the studio where he rigorously experimented with the varying effects and qualities of materials. Releasing Stains in 1969, an edition of boxed sheets of paper containing a single stain dropped in the middle of each sheet, Ruscha began his exploration of material properties. Amongst a variety of bases such as silk or moiré, Ruscha tested yellow pepper, tea, bodily fluids, egg yolk, sulphuric acid and gunpowder. Excited by the possibilities of alternative materials, Ruscha stated ‘New mediums encourage me. I still paint in oil paint. But what I’m interested in is illustrating ideas’ (Ed Ruscha, quoted in Christopher Fox, ‘Ed Ruscha discusses his latest work with Christopher Fox’, Studio International, no. 179, June 1970, pp. 281-287). In the present work, the essence of the inky blackberry is smoothed and refined to a yellow dye. Expertly applied to the paper, the juice appears fluid, staining the sheet with a deep sunny hue. The lettering and background is inverted, with the pure white, heavenly letters spelling out Devil. The embodiment of all things satanic and evil, the Devil is largely associated with fiery reds and sooty blacks, conveying the eternal abyss and hell fire. Here, Ruscha utilises a light and airy palette, breathing life and hope into universal fear of the Devil.
Ruscha’s lexical references to religion are peppered throughout his oeuvre. Raised in a Catholic family in Omaha, Nebraska, and then Oklahoma City, Ruscha’s relationship to Catholicism is complex. Leaving Oklahoma in 1956 to attend the Chouinard Art Institute in California, Ruscha was liberated by the progressive Californian culture which seemed at odds with his Bible Belt, mid-Western upbringing. Speaking to the New York Observer in reference to his Three Catholics: Warhol, Ruscha and Mapplethorpe show at Cheim & Read Gallery, New York, Ruscha stated, ‘If anything, I left the so-called spiritual awakening behind when I left Oklahoma. I’m not trying to say anything religious’ (Ed Ruscha, quoted in Jeffrey Hogrefe, ‘Confession in Chelsea’, New York Observer, 11 May 1998, p. 26). Bound with childhood memories and nostalgic familial recollections, the strict religious teachings he received at Sunday school as a child had a profound effect on his visual syntax, rather than his spirituality. Opting to depict the most emphatically loaded words, such as Evil, Pure Ectasy and Gospel, often representing poignant religious tropes, ideas and figure heads, Ruscha’s skilled handling of these enormous spiritual concepts encompass a wealth of connotations. Speaking about his earlier 1967 work, Sin, Ruscha asserted ‘I never believed in this "You are sin. You are dead for eternity." The imagery, though, I always thought was very seductive. Just the smell of incense, the icons and marble floors, and all those foxy vestments and everything had some sort of allure…’ (Ed Ruscha, quoted in Jeffrey Hogrefe, ‘Confession in Chelsea’, New York Observer, 11 May 1998, p. 26).
A wry formalisation of a fear itself, Devil particularly conveys Ruscha’s sharp encapsulation of loaded syntax through a carefully selected combination of colour, form and typography. A paradox of colour and subject, Devil confronts the enormity of religion face on. Exploring the polarisation of good and bad, heaven and hell, God and the Devil, Ruscha reduces the Devil to letters on a sheet, whilst maintaining the weighted spiritual clout of the word itself.
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.
£250,000 - 350,000
sold for £273,000
London Auction 6 October 2017