Ed Ruscha - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 17, 2023 | Phillips

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  • “Dixie was a ‘hot’ word. To me Dixie and Las Vegas are sort of synonymous places. This notion was a recipe for painting. Driving through the South in a Cadillac with Vegas license plates.”
    —Ed Ruscha

    Ed Ruscha’s Dixie Red Seville, 1985 presents two overlapping layers of text rendered in the artist’s signature Boy Scout Utility Modern typeface against sunset sky. Ruscha shifts from midnight blue at upper left into strokes of rich plum and lilac across the center of the canvas, finishing in a pale, yellow-toned grey along the bottom edge of the work. The red text, DIXIE RED SEVILLE, follows a diagonal similar to the blue gradient; the text DIXIE is darker against the top corner, while the bright scarlet SEVILLE stands out against the pale grey, nearly white, at the bottom. Two words in dark blue, VEGAS PLATES, slightly smaller than the red text, overlap the words RED and SEVILLE, respectively. The words work together as a verbal portrait of a particular image; as Ruscha explains, the word DIXIE is red-hot, and it conjures the experience of driving through the southern United States in a Cadillac.i Ruscha uses color and word choice to evoke an image that comes in a flash—one can imagine seeing this car, speeding past them on the highway.


    Music Video for the Stray Cats, "Look at That Cadillac," 1983.


    Known for a body of work that falls between the Pop and Conceptual art movements, Ruscha got his start in advertising before switching to fine art, and like his peers Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, his commercial beginnings had a strong influence on his art practice.ii Ruscha engages an advertising sign painter’s signature technique, stenciling, to achieve the crisp juxtaposition of angular text against the wide brushstrokes of sky in Dixie Red Seville. In the present work, Ruscha painted the blue background before applying the red and black text, the inverse of the “reverse-stenciling” technique used on later airbrush works, such as An Exhibition of Gasoline Powered Engines, 1993, Seattle Art Museum. Similarly, the large scale and easy legibility of Dixie Red Seville draws on advertising techniques, encouraging the viewer to extrapolate various emotions and meanings from a simple set of words.


    Ruscha often found inspiration from phrases glimpsed while driving out west; as his former studio assistant, Shane Guffogg, shared, “the automobile had a big impact on [Ruscha], you know, The West, the idea of space. You think about billboards, this town is full of billboards, which are basically words and images juxtaposed against the sky.”iii The diagonal composition of Dixie Red Seville recalls the way in which the highway can seem to run infinitely into the horizon, especially across the flat expanses of the American Southwest. The layered text effect encourages the eye to move along the diagonal axis of the work at least twice, taking in the words, and the shifting sky, repeatedly. With Dixie Red Seville, Ruscha engages modernist preoccupations with the pursuit of flatness and multiplied symbolic meaning on the picture plane, reinterpreted into the mythos of the American Southwest.


    Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, 1963. Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College. Artwork: © Ed Ruscha


    The left-to-right diagonal text of Dixie Red Seville gives the work a narrative quality, as well, drawing on some of Ruscha’s earlier, more conceptual work. His 1963 artist’s book, 26 Gasoline Stations, documents every gas station between his mother’s home in Oklahoma City, and Ruscha’s adopted hometown of Los Angeles. The book format implies a narrative continuity—one flips from page to page, presumably moving forward in time, along the course of the quintessentially American road trip out west. Similarly, the movement of the eye from top left to bottom right of Dixie Red Seville suggests narrative and duration, a quality that’s drawn out further through the associations of the painted words. As Dave Hickey observes, the work conveys “the subtext of a vehicle in cognitive as well as narrative transit—named for one location (Seville), painted a color named for another (Dixie), and licensed in yet a third (Las Vegas).”iv


    Richard Prince, Untitled (cowboy), 1989. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Richard Prince

    The multiplying associations of each word in Dixie Red Seville recall the semiotic concept of “floating signifiers,” words whose meanings don’t necessarily refer to a concrete, physical object, and thus can be reinterpreted based on their context.v This is certainly the case with Dixie Red Seville; while the words floating against the blue sky may conjure the idea of a Cadillac driving through the South, they are open to interpretation. There is no red Cadillac on the picture plane to tie the words to any particular meaning. This aligns with Ruscha’s philosophy towards his word-paintings as a whole, as he collapses the distinction between meaning and representation, word and image: “I don’t consciously insert [a message] into my work,” he said.vi Rather, “I like the idea of a word becoming a picture, almost leaving its body, then coming back and becoming a word again.”vii



    Ed Ruscha, quoted in Robert Dean and Erin Wright, eds., Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, vol. 3: 1983-1987, cat. rais., New York, 2007, p. 122.

    ii “Ed Ruscha – Learning Resource,” National Galleries Scotland, accessed Feb. 2023, online.

    iii Shane Guffogg, quoted in Augustus Britton, “Ed Ruscha,” Flaunt, accessed Apr. 14, 2023, online.

    iv Dave Hickey, “Wacky Molière Lines: A Listener’s Guide to Ed-werd Rew-shay,” Parkett no. 18, 1988, p. 134.

    “Floating Signifier,” Oxford Reference, A Dictionary of Critical Theory, accessed Apr. 14, 2023, online.

    vi Ruscha, quoted in Britton.

    vi Ruscha, quoted in Calvin Tomkins, “Ed Ruscha’s L.A.,” The New Yorker, Jun. 24, 2013, online.

    • Provenance

      Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
      Thomas E. Worrell Jr., Taos
      G & C Enterprises, Las Vegas
      Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles
      Halsey Minor, Los Angeles
      Gagosian Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, Boston
      Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above)
      Helly Nahmad Gallery, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Lyon, Musée Saint-Pierre Art Contemporain, Edward Ruscha, October 11–November 18, 1985, p. 111 (illustrated)
      New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Ed Ruscha, February 8–March 1, 1986
      Youngstown, The Butler Institute of American Art, Leo Castelli: A Tribute Exhibition, June 28–September 27, 1987, p. 40 (illustrated, p. 32)

    • Literature

      Dave Hickey, “Wacky Molière Lines: A Listener’s Guide to Ed-werd Rew-shay,” Parkett, vol. 18, 1988, pp. 33-34 (illustrated, p. 31)
      Robert Dean and Erin Wright, Edward Ruscha. Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings. Volume Three: 1983-1987, New York, 2007, no. P1985.04, pp. 122, 551 (illustrated, p. 123)

    • 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.

      View More Works


Dixie Red Seville

signed and dated “Ed Ruscha 1985” on the reverse
oil on canvas
64 x 64 in. (162.6 x 162.6 cm)
Painted in 1985.

Full Cataloguing

$2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Mayer
Associate Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1206

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 May 2023