Ed Ruscha - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 13, 2015 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles

  • Exhibited

    Los Angeles, Gagosian Gallery, ED RUSCHA, PSYCHO SPAGHETTI WESTERNS, February 25 - April 9, 2011

  • Literature

    ED RUSCHA, PSYCHO SPAGHETTI WESTERNS, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles, 2011, p. 17 (installation illustrated), p. 51 (illustrated)
    J. Finkel, "Q&A: Ed Ruscha on Psycho Spaghetti Westerns," Los Angeles Times, February 26, 2011

  • Catalogue Essay

    Ed Ruscha’s late series Psycho Spaghetti Westerns unveiled in 2011, offer a new vision of the contemporary American landscape. In the present lot, Psycho Spaghetti Western #8, 2010-2011, Ruscha constructs an eerie surrealist, yet contemporary still life. The scene reveals a stark, stratified view of a highway, reimagined as a display-case for the mundane, commonly discarded items of passing by vehicles. Here, the American still life has been stripped of its floral domesticity, and instead is bedecked with today's curios. Yet, through Ruscha's treatment, the scraps of a tire and a worn mattress create a beautiful melancholic portrait of America. Ruscha explains the local vernacular associated with the motif, “That’s a gator—truck drivers call ’em that, I started seeing these things on the highway and I thought, it’s the perfect excuse to make a picture.” (Ed Ruscha in D. Goodyear, “Moving Day,” The New Yorker, April 11, 2011) The Psycho Spaghetti series forms a notable body of work for Ruscha, taking visual cues from his earlier paintings of the 1960's which similarly depicted images upon vaguely defined fields. Now, a mature painter, the artist harkens back to his earlier explorations with a new vision.

    For Ruscha the open road of the highway represents the epitome of American liberty and rebellion. “I like the open road and driving on the highway, especially in the Western U.S. I always liked the Pasadena Freeway. It was built in 1938 and is the oldest freeway in the United States.” (Ed Ruscha in D. Goodyear, “Moving Day,” The New Yorker, April 11, 2011) From Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of the Open Road” to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the promise of the highway has become synonymous with the idea of personal freedom. As Dean Moriarty expressed in Kerouac’s epochal book: "Somewhere along the line I knew there would be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me." (J. Kerouac, On the Road) The possibility of greatness lies on the open road, even if this American landscape seemed to offer only a world of debris and disorienting instability. From out of the wreckage of life on the road, these “pearls” could be found in unexpected objects and sights along the way. The cinematic genre of the spaghetti western also involved dislocation and the collision of cultural modes. Overdubbed, extremely violent parables of the Old American West were filmed in Italy and Spain during the 1960s. Ruscha explains this conflation of cultural references: “tangled up messes like spaghetti, and we're living out here in the West, and we're all psycho.”(Ed Ruscha, J. Finkel, “Q&A: Ed Ruscha on 'Psycho Spaghetti Westerns,”Los Angeles Times, February 26, 2011)

    The present lot, Psycho Spaghetti Western #8, 2010-2011, is compositionally soothing in color and form even though it depicts seemingly sad and forlorn items after their abandonment. The pinkish background is reminiscent of Ruscha’s early 1970’s works on paper rendered in gunpowder that depicted floating words, such as “Rooster” upon a reddish powdered pigment background. This smoldering, sfumato technique originated in the High Renaissance and early Baroque periods, and comes from the Italian verb “sfumare” meaning “to tone down or evaporate like smoke.” This smoky grey and cream background also alludes to Surrealist landscapes, as seen in Yves Tanguy’s Arrières-pensées (Second Thoughts), 1939, which were traditionally employed to geographically dislocate the scene from any real or recognizable world. Tanguy referred to these as mindscapes, a scene in which objects of mysterious form sit within an unreal landscape. Within the present lot, Psycho Spaghetti Western #8, the objects are identifiable but only slightly, and the backdrop adds a sense of transience, of time slowly creeping by. The mattress and the tire tread appear almost as text, attempting to spell out an undecipherable message. The Psycho Spaghetti Western series is executed in acrylic on canvas, with the exception of the present lot where Ruscha incorporates motor oil, which, as the artist commented, “The mattress in that picture is painted partly with used motor oil. Somehow, motor oil and mattresses go together — either oil or blood. You always see it on the streets. They throw oil on the mattresses to finish them off.”(Ed Ruscha, J. Finkel, “Q&A: Ed Ruscha on 'Psycho Spaghetti Westerns,”Los Angeles Times, February 26, 2011)

    Psycho Spaghetti Western #8 reflects on the continued life of material objects once humans discard them; they are piled up along the edge of the road, stripped of their utility and forsaken by society. Ruscha sees these objects as overlooked ruins and has composed a painting of perfectly rendered isolation, similar in mood to the last painting in the Course of Empire, the meaning of which Thomas Cole explained in this letter: “The fifth must be a sunset, —the mountains river—the city a desolate ruin—columns standing isolated amid encroaching waters—ruined temples, broken bridges, fountains, sarcophagi &c. —no human figure—a solitary bird perhaps: a calm & silent effect. This picture must be as the funeral knell of departed greatness, and may be called the state of desolation.” (Thomas Cole to Luman Reed, September 18, 1833, NYSL; quoted in Noble, The Life and Works of Thomas Cole, p. 130)

  • Artist Biography

    Ed Ruscha

    American • 1937

    Ed Ruscha is an Los Angeles-based artist whose art, like California itself, is both geographically rooted and a metaphor for an American state of mind. A deft creator of photography, film, painting, drawing, prints and artist books, Ruscha has executed works for over 60 years that are simultaneously unexpected and familiar, both ironic and sincere.

    His most iconic works are 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 the post-war world.

    View More Works


Ο ◆22

Psycho Spaghetti Western #8

acrylic, used motor oil on canvas
48 x 110 in. (121.9 x 279.4 cm)
Signed and dated "Ed Ruscha 2010-11" on the reverse. This work will be included in a future volume of Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, edited by Robert Dean.

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $965,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Evening Sale 14 May 2015 7pm