Ed Ruscha - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 15, 2012 | Phillips

Create your first list.

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

  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Literature

    R. Dean and E. Wright, Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume Three 1983 – 1987, Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2007, p. 27 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    I kind of sprang from Catholicism…some of my work comes out of a quasi-religious thing.

    (Ed Ruscha, in A. Wallach, “The Restless American: On Ed Ruscha’s Road” The New York Times, June 24, 2001).

    Ed Ruscha’s standing as the quintessential West Coast artist has remained unchallenged for nearly five decades. One of the first visual artists to grapple with the visual tone and power of the printed letter and word, Ruscha made his fame by interweaving word and image. His Gas Stations of the 1960s have become icons, archetypal visions of America, where California is the reigning mood. Wielding a singular combination of deadpan irrelevance and streamlined beauty, Ruscha continually feeds our love-hate addictions to sarcasm and sin. His images are hypnotically alluring—no true action is taking place, yet we cannot draw our eyes away. This is the haunting, possessive quality of Ruscha at his best.

    Ruscha’s word paintings are a seminal fusion of his many technical influences. Tracing their roots to the graphic design of the early 1950s, the paintings initially resemble a product of commercial advertising. Indeed, their use of various fonts from newspapers,billboards, and other signage, paired with familiar background images come across as enormous marketing tools. Upon close inspection, we see the careful and exacting brushstroke of Ruscha’s painterly hand, and it is in the relationship between his words and images that Ruscha’s true brilliance manifests itself. Though often resembling each other in color and tone, both text and picture contrast each other in provocative ways. Delighting in exploiting our associations between emotions and words, Ruscha’s text, irreverently splayed across dissimilar backgrounds, always seeks to
    teach us that typography can posse an emotional charge just as powerful as any pictorial image. 99% Angel, 1% Devil, 1983, uses the power o f text and color to confront
    a phenomenon as equally American as any other: religion. Floating in a luscious sea of reds and oranges, Ruscha’s words are seemingly transparent in their meaning. “99% Angel” towers above its completing sentiment of “1% Devil” and dwarfs the later in the size. The glowing block letters, executed in Ruscha’s signature typeface, Boy Scout Utility Modern, silences us with their almost computerized neutrality. In his typical deadpan delivery, Ruscha toys with the timeless internal struggle between good and evil. Looking at the vast contrast in size between the opposing forces— how could such an insignificant part of one’s soul triumph when it is so small in proportion.

    Ruscha’s brilliance is in the dissonance between his sentiment and the beautiful hellscape that surrounds it. Ruscha’s atmosphere resembles a post apocalyptic world at dawn—enormous waves of black smoke wafting in and out of fiery clouds. Though “99% Angel” thunders loudly as the domineering aspect of the soul, we can only guess that keeping the devil from staging a coup is an exercise in futility. Here, we feed our fascination with the open-ended nature of Ruscha’s dead-pan phraseology while basking in the sinister color connotations awash the canvas. Unable to look away, our eyes hover transfixed—content to endlessly search the horizon rather than turn our eyes on our own souls.

    So, in the end, does the Angel or the Devil win out? An interesting answer might be to explore the relationship between Ruscha’s Catholic upbringing and his adoption of California as his home. The notion of California as a Western promised land brings with it a wealth of religious implications. It is the Canaan of the American West, flowing not only with milk and honey but also with success, financial prosperity and a wealth of land on which to live and work. But, as every promise land has its Jerusalem, so it has it Sodom and Gomorrah.

    Ruscha’s California, in the end, is simply a reflection of his own—and all of our secreted conflicts. Just as our greed creeps stealthily among our austerity and lust within our modesty, so in Ruscha’s painting does the devil tiptop into our sanctity. But after the viewer has examined 99% Angel, 1% Devil, 1983, for an extended period of time, he may begin to wonder why the angel has to shout so loud in the first place.

  • 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


99% Angel, 1% Devil

oil on canvas
36 x 40 in. (91.4 x 101.6 cm)
Signed and dated “Edward Ruscha 1983” on the reverse; further signed, titled, and dated “99% Angel, 1% Devil, Edward Ruscha, Apr 7 ‘83” along the overlap.

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for $1,022,500

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

15 November 2012
New York