Ed Ruscha - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'Words are pattern-like, and in their horizontality across the canvas, they answer my investigation into landscape.'
    —Ed Ruscha
    Often described as Ed Ruscha’s preferred medium, individual words and enigmatic phrases have occupied the artist throughout his six-decade career, appearing in his work as early as 1959 and evolving over the years through a remarkable variety of scripts and styles. Although Ruscha had made drawings and paintings based on his drives through his adopted hometown of Los Angeles and the surrounding West Coast, he did not combine these two aspects of his work - landscape and text – until 1968. Appropriately, Ruscha’s first combination of text set against a legible landscape was directly inspired by the iconic and unmistakable silhouette of the Hollywood Hills. Forming the literal backdrop to the city and standing metonymically for the idea of ‘Hollywood’ itself, this witty combination of word, idea, and text has been fundamental to Ruscha’s artistic development ever since, and is a topic that he speaks eloquently on.


    Landscape and the Horizonal


    Its title dominating the centre of the composition, Huge Conditions belongs to a significant body of paintings which Ruscha first embarked on in the 1980s, all featuring expansive landscapes overlaid with text. To achieve the stunning, photorealist finish that we see here, Ruscha initially sprayed a thin layer of paint directly onto the canvas, later working up the detail in acrylic paint more precisely applied with a brush. Finally, Ruscha applied the text using a stencil, its emblematic font an invention of the artist’s own which he has named ‘Boy Scout Utility Modern’ – a title which sounds strangely like a witty echo of one of his Word Paintings. As Ruscha describes it, ‘there are no curves to the letters - they’re all straight lines.’’i This square, straight quality to the typeface is emphasised by its wide spatial arrangement, and Ruscha’s careful control of the painting’s emphatically lateral composition.
    'I always liked horizontals. Horizontals to me were like landscapes. And I also got it from seeing movies as a kid. Eventually they began to stretch the screen size so that it became Panavistic—they kept making it wider and wider. So I’ve found myself making paintings wider. I like the idea of trying to capture the whole thing or giving you more and more and more and more.'
    —Ed Ruscha

    With this cinematic scope, Ruscha generates a remarkable sense of quietly atmospheric tension here not unlike the serene seascapes of Lucas Arruda or the extreme horizontality of Andreas Gursky’s photographs of the Rhine. Bathed in an ethereal dawn light, the rising sun just breaking over the line of the horizon, the scene takes on the eerie stillness of David Casper Friedrich’s strange and sublime landscapes. Devoid of even the faintest human presence here though, the marshy expanse stretches out before us, silent and serene. A compelling ambiguity hangs over the scene – are we waiting for something to end, or are we gazing out at a new beginning? What are the ‘conditions’ referenced by the text, and what would failing to fulfil them imply? Sterling Ruby’s astute observation that ‘For me, your work represents the perfect balance of the apocalypse and serenity […] symbolizing some sort of dichotic meditation on existence’ is especially resonant here, emphasised by the tensions established between the flooded landscape and Ruscha’s selection of text.ii


    Casper David Friedrich, Paysage du Nord, printemps, (Northern Landscape, Spring), ca. 1825, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Image: Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
    Casper David Friedrich, Paysage du Nord, printemps, (Northern Landscape, Spring), ca. 1825, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Image: Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

    In its panoramic scope Huge Conditions also recalls myths of the ‘American West’, a theme which recurs throughout Ruscha’s Word Paintings and across his oeuvre more broadly. In 2016, the de Young Museum in San Francisco addressed this directly with the exhibition Ed Ruscha and the Great American West, while in 2005 Ruscha had himself tackled the question of American mythmaking in his presentation for La Biennale di Venezia. Responding to 19th century American landscape painter and founder of the Hudson River School Thomas Cole’s pastoral cycle The Course of Empire, Ruscha presented a series of works charting the changing landscape of Los Angeles and of shifting attitudes to ideas of ‘progress’ through the 20th century.


    Andreas Gursky, The Rhine II, 1999, Tate, London. Image: © Tate, Artwork: © Courtesy Monika Sprueth Galerie, Koeln / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn and DACS, London 2022

    The narratives surrounding the American expansion ‘out west’ are echoed in Rucha’s own, much mythologised artistic beginnings. Born in Nebraska in 1937, Ruscha passed his childhood in Oklahoma before leaving at the age of 18, driving a 1950 Ford Sedan all the way to Los Angeles where he enrolled at Chouinard Art Institute and eventually began work as a commercial sign-painter. Retracing the steps of generations of Americans heading west to make their fortune, Ruscha absorbed the wide-open landscape, punctuated here and there by the billboards and gas stations – symbols of American aspiration and expansion that would go on to become such prominent features of his work. Echoing the ‘horizontal landscapes, flatlands, the landscape I grew up in’, Huge Conditions captures the sense of optimism and vastness of the unknown that faced those early pioneers, and even perhaps the young Ruscha himself.iii



    Collector's Digest

    •    Based in Los Angeles, Ed Ruscha’s career spans over 50 years across a variety of mediums and has become representative of a highly distinctive brand of American idealism.


    •    Since his first solo show at Ferus Gallery in 1963, Ruscha has exhibited globally, with notable solo shows at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.


    •    Undoubtably one of America’s best known and widely respected artist, Ed Ruscha’s work blends elements of advertising, graphic design, and fine art, most accurately captured in his highly celebrated Word Paintings.


    Ed Ruscha, ‘The Tension of Words and Images’, Tate Shorts, Ed Ruscha explains why he is drawn to words and how he uses stencils and backgrounds


    i Ed Ruscha, quoted in Kristine McKenna, ‘Ed Ruscha in Conversation with Kristine McKenna’, Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting (exh. cat.), Hayward Gallery, London, 2009, p. 58. 
    ii Sterling Ruby, Interview Magazine, 20 August 2016, online
    iii Christopher Bollen, ‘Ed Ruscha’, Interview Magazine, 20 August 2016, online.

    • Provenance

      Gagosian Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      Robert Dean, Edward Ruscha. Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings. Volume Seven: 2004-2011, New York, 2016, no. P2007.10, pp. 198, 598 (illustrated, p. 199)

    • 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


Huge Conditions

signed, titled and dated '''HUGE CONDITIONS'' Ed Ruscha 2007' on the reverse; signed, titled and dated 'ED RUSCHA ''HUGE CONDITIONS'' 2007' on the stretcher
acrylic on canvas
91.4 x 121.9 cm (36 x 48 in.)
Painted in 2007.

Full Cataloguing

£1,100,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for £1,232,500

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+ 44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 3 March 2022