Ed Ruscha - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 16, 2022 | Phillips
  • "Route 66, I’ve had a great affection for that road because of its connection between the places I’ve been and worked. It was like a continuous ribbon, it was like a real magical formula for keeping my life going. I thought it was great."
    —Ed Ruscha

    Spanning over 13 feet long, Industrial Village and Its Hill, painted in 1982, bestows upon us Ed Ruscha’s signature style in which text and image coexist. Originally from Nebraska, Ruscha spent years in Oklahoma City before moving to Los Angeles to study at what is now the California Institute of the Arts. Here, Ruscha discovered Pop masterworks like Jasper John’s 1950s target paintings, which would inspire him to rely on similarly commercial imagery in his own work. Yet, it was Ruscha’s fascination and admiration for the American landscape which truly distinguished his paintings, prints and photographs from his Pop predecessors and contemporaries. Such regard for the west coast is palpable in the present work, which abstractly depicts the famous Route 66 in his home state of California. Above silhouettes of the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountain ranges across the lower expanse of the canvas are two small phrases rendered in Ruscha’s iconic stenciled letters, as if mapping out the landscape from left to right: “THE HILL ABOVE INDUSTRIAL VILLAGE” and “INDUSTRIAL VILLAGE.” Originally housed in the collection of Merry Norris, founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Industrial Village and Its Hill, is a prime example of Ruscha’s characteristic use of text immersed in the American landscape.


    "There is a big difference between vertical movement and horizontal movement."
    —Ed Ruscha

    Throughout his long and illustrious career, Ruscha has explored and used different techniques playing around with the juxtaposition of words and symbols into images. Just a few years before he created the present work, Ruscha started utilizing the grand horizontal canvas format, largely inspired by billboards and murals. Rendered in monochromatic black and white, Industrial Village and Its Hill illustrates just enough to identify Route 66 by its silhouette. The text embedded in the painting points out where the unnamed “hill above the industrial village” is located, versus the anonymous “industrial village,” creating the visual effect of an elongated distance between these two landmarks. Ruscha explains, “The reason I’m happy with these pictures is because, even with the width of the canvas, I’m able to miniaturize things so that there’s almost thousands of miles between the left side of the canvas and the right side of the canvas...The lettering also brings you down to the miniature aspect of it. That’s why the letters are no larger than they are...It has to do with the fact that our eyes run in a horizontal line. There is a big difference between vertical movement and horizontal movement. I seem to be on horizontal movement, and I’ve been here for years.”i


    Route 66, California. Image: trekandshoot / Alamy Stock Photo

    "Using exact geographical terms to particularize the uninflected abstraction of a landscape (a Route 66 landscape par excellent) is witty... Not the idea of landscape but something like the experience of an actual landscape is induced in the viewer, who seizes on the internal captions “industrial village” and “hill” to stave off vertigo."
    —Peter Schjeldahl, “Ed Ruscha: Traffic and Laughter," 1985

    Many of the works Ruscha was creating during the 1980s and 1990s recall grainy film stills. These so-called silhouette paintings, like the present work, were created with a technique that mimics the process used in making commercial billboards—air brushing and stenciling together remove the appearance of any handmade brushstrokes. Here, the technique is used in a manner contrary to that of advertisement. With its vague phrases and unidentifiable background, the imagery does not resemble any one thing in particular. The text atop the mountains transmits a distance, evoking a sense of nostalgia without labeling it as anything specific. The result is a composition that is at once familiar and anonymous. Ruscha said, “a lot of my paintings are anonymous backdrops for the drama of words. In a way, they’re words in front of an old Paramount Studios mountain. You don’t have to have a mountain back there - you could have a landscape, a farm. I have a background, foreground. It’s so simple. And the backgrounds are of no particular character. They’re just meant to support the drama, like the Hollywood sign being held up by sticks.”ii



    An important work in the artist’s prolific oeuvre, this painting has been featured in seminal institutional shows, including Ruscha’s traveling 1989-1991 and 2000-2001 retrospectives. It was also referenced by the late and revered art critic, Peter Schejdahl in his 1985 essay “Traffic and Laughter,” who died just this past October. Of this painting, he aptly stated, “Not the idea of landscape but something like the experience of an actual landscape is induced in the viewer, who seizes on the internal captions 'industrial village' and 'hill' to stave off vertigo."  

    i Edward Ruscha, quoted in Richard Marshall, Ed Ruscha, New York 2003, p. 181.
    ii Ed Ruscha quoted in Richard Marshall, Ed Ruscha, London 2003, p. 239.

    • Provenance

      Merry Norris, Los Angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Reading, Freedman Gallery, Albright College, Contemporary Landscape Painting, June 17–July 30, 1983, n.p.
      Paris, Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, no. 14, pp. 32-33, 78 (illustrated, pp. 32-33); Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, no. 12, pp. 46-47, 123 (illustrated, p. 47); Barcelona, Fundacio Caixa de Pensions, pp. 61-62 (illustrated); London, Serpentine Gallery; Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Edward Ruscha, December 6, 1989–February 24, 1991
      Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Miami Art Museum; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Ed Ruscha, June 29, 2000–September 30, 2001, pp. 88-89, 204 (illustrated, pp. 88-89)

    • Literature

      Peter Schjeldahl, “Traffic and Laughter,” Edward Ruscha, exh. cat., Musée St. Pierre, Lyon, 1985, p. 53
      Bonnie Clearwater, “Edward Ruscha: Words Without Thoughts Never To Heaven Go,” Edward Ruscha, Lannan Museum, exh. cat., Lake Worth, 1988, no. 23, pp. 34, 37 (illustrated, p. 37)
      “Art,” International Herald Tribune, 1990, p. 7
      Peter Schjeldahl, “Traffic and Laughter,” The Hydrogen Jukebox: Selected Writings of Peter Schjeldahl 1978-1990, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1991, p. 246
      Robert Dean with Erin Wright, Edward Ruscha. Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings. Volume Two: 1971-1982, New York, 2005, no. P1982.04, pp. 382-383 (illustrated, p. 383)

    • 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


Industrial Village and Its Hill

partially titled and dated "Hill Above Industrial Village INDUSTRIAL VILLAGE Jan 20 82" on the overlap
oil on canvas
20 x 159 in. (50.8 x 403.9 cm)
Painted on January 20, 1982.

Full Cataloguing

$400,000 - 600,000 

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 November 2022