Ed Ruscha - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale Hong Kong Tuesday, June 21, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Born in 1937, American artist Ed Ruscha has been based in Los Angeles since 1956, and his celebrated corpus spans over six decades, documenting and exploring the city’s iconography and pop culture in an unconventional style that oscillates between mundane and philosophical. Presenting an innovative adoption of gunpowder as media, Energy Robbing Gears is a classic example of Ruscha’s iconic oeuvre, which masterfully melds American Pop art, typography, and conceptual art. Belonging to a series collectively known as his gunpowder ribbon works, widely regarded by critics as being ‘one of Ruscha’s most important bodies of drawing’i, in Energy Robbing Gears, light shines upon an ambiguous phrase spelled out in ivory-toned ribbon letters, which appears to float in space as if magically aloft.



    Portrait of Ed Ruscha as he poses with several of his Gunpowder Ribbon Drawings, New York, 9 December 1967
    Image: Getty Images
    © Ed Ruscha


    Ruscha’s beloved series of gunpowder drawings arose from his affinity for employing atypical materials in his work when traditional practices failed to satisfy his creative cravings. Commenting on using gunpowder as a medium, Ruscha has explained: ‘it left a charcoal that had a kind of a warm tone to it, 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.’ ii




    Ed Ruscha on working with gunpowder as a medium, 2011

    Video Courtesy of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art



    The appearance of seemingly random slang words and phrases rendered in distinct typography is a signature in Ruscha’s repertoire, stemming from the artist’s background as a graphic designer.  The selected sentences, though often vague in their exact significance, are suggestive of everyday American culture, often overheard by the artist or drawn from the depths of his imagination. In describing his inspirations, Ruscha says: ‘Words come to me in dreams...There is some wicked truth behind dreams. They are so out of your control. They're involuntary. There's got to be some protein to them, something important happening in dreams—especially the words that come out of them.’ iii


    Detail of the present work


    Indeed, Energy Robbing Gears sparks numerous associations, from the rolling credits of vintage Hollywood films or the opening crawl of Star Wars, to the American motor industry, which Ruscha has expressed a particular fascination with. His creations are imbued with an air of inherent strangeness and theatrical, nostalgic energy, emblematic of the post-war Californian atmosphere he developed his practice in. The present work, much like the rest of his oeuvre, is enticing in its minimalist aesthetic and deceptive simplicity, the lack of a specific context leaving its deeper meaning open to the viewer’s interpretation. As part of a generation of artists that pioneered Pop art, Ruscha’s sublime style is at once visually pleasing and thought-provoking - a foray into the world of unorthodox materials and dream-like imagery that cleverly reimagines the possibilities of drawing and typography.  




    Star Wars opening crawl (1997)


    Widely revered as one of the most important contributors to American art, Ruscha’s works are held in the permanent collections of prestigious institutions around the world, including The Museum of Modern Art in New York; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Tate Gallery in London; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.


    The artist has exhibited extensively on an international scale. Most recently, this includes a solo show at Gagosian in Switzerland (2021); the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (2021); Crown Point Press in San Francisco (2021); and Oklahoma Contemporary (2021).


    Ed Ruscha Gunpowder Works in Museum Collections

    • Provenance

      Livet Reichard Company, New York
      Private Collection, New York
      Private Collection, New York (by descent from the above)
      Sotheby's, London, 16 October 2015, lot 150
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Literature

      Ed Ruscha, They Called Her Styrene, London, 2000, n.p. (illustrated)
      Lisa Turvey, ed., Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Works on Paper: Vol. 1: 1956-1976, New York, 2014, no. D1974.37, p. 378 (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      Ed Ruscha

      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.

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Property of a Distinguished Private Collector


Energy Robbing Gears

signed and dated 'Edward Ruscha 1974' on the reverse
gunpowder and pastel on paper
18.7 x 73.2 cm. (7 3/8 x 28 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1974.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 21 June 2022