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  • Provenance

    Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London; Galerie Philomene Magers, Munich; Van de Weghe Fine Art, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    Proportion is a lot more important to me than size… a large work will overpower you in a certain way that a small painting cannot… most of my proportions are affected by the concept of the panorama… like I say, I’m a victim of the horizontal line... and the landscape… which is almost one and the same to me. So I’ve eliminated a lot of the unnecessary sky and unnecessary ground. I try to focus on where the sky meets the ground so that you have a stretched-out version, something panoramic… a panavision format… I find myself always coming back to this horizontal idea. Back in the early eighties, I was doing these paintings that were very long and skinny… then they became more than paintings, they became objects… and were taken out of the common, friendly—let’s say, user-friendly—shape of a painting… I guess maybe I’m trying to put more time and mileage between one end and the other. Ed Ruscha, taken from an interview by B. Blistène, “Conversation with Ed Ruscha”, Edward Ruscha Paintings, Rotterdam, 1990, p. 140
    A self-proclaimed ‘victim of the horizontal line’, the concept of the panorama has been Ed Ruscha’s principle theme throughout his visionary career. For the artist, the unique stance he takes on the panoramic vision transfors the literal world around us, from media symbols to road signs, and creates a parallel position in space. His painting appears eclipsed in time, perpetuating a metaphysical aura.
    For the artist never seeks to create a ‘landscape’ in any literal ramification; rather, he strives to deconstruct those images and words which come to us via the commercial world and through the physical environment surrounding us. With his subtly nuanced references and expressive juxtapositioning of word against line, the artist naturally conjures a new set of circumstances for the text, in turn spawning new interpretation.
    For the present lot, From Reno to Norfolk, Ruscha takes the celebrated cities along America’s interstate I-70 and transfers them as units in time to the grid like ladder he constructs. Their geographic positions become a literal fixture on the canvas as one’s eye travels from the first leg on the journey, Reno, Nevada, and finishes at the last, Norfolk, Virginia. As it traverses, the furthest distance recedes in space and time with Ruscha’s adept handling of perspective and atmospheric technique. Accurately, Norfolk appears small and narrow to our eye whilst Reno emblazons across the foreground in largest type.
    In the work, Ruscha has expanded on his early sign drawings, and returned to examining perspectives. The powdered effect maintains a strong effect through the use of light-dark contrasts, however the impression of space is magnified by the manner in which the image is divided by horizontal lines, progressively closer and closer together so as to imply distance. Ruscha is leading the eye to interpret depth and distance. By using place names with these dividing lines, as conceptual markers on the landscape, Ruscha is calling upon our own understanding of what these names mean, Reno, Denver, Kansas City etc and there geographic positions, and in doing so the concept of distance is multiplied ten fold. No longer are we looking at a conceptual depth of a few meters, suddenly the images are an expanse of hundreds of kilometers.
    The significance of Ruscha’s assignment of these cities merits further discussion. As America’s ‘Wild West’ became settled by intrepid pioneers, the trails begun by horseback soon became fixed ‘roadways’ for colonial carriages. Norfolk, Virginia with its early American settlement, was undoubtedly the starting point for many colonists as they began their trek Westward. Ruscha’s painting reverses this journey, suggesting on one level the importance the West now faces for America and its influence on the East. In a way, this is how the artist himself can be approached as his influence on American, and European art, is clearly a journey from West to East as well.
    Ruscha first explored the use of words in his drawings of the early 1960s. Often discussed in the same context as his photographs, Ruscha employed various techniques, mediums and subject matter in both his drawings and photography to resonate his unique visual style. Taking inspiration during this period by signs, Ruscha adapted the idea to his own devises. Pop to the very core, these images relish in the mundane whilst also representing the somewhat abstract concept of assigning a name, or sound, to an object or area of land. By removing the word from its context Ruscha is forcing us to reexamine the word, to reconsider its sound and meaning within its new placement.
    As a contributing artist in the influential exhibition New Paintings of Common Objects, held at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1962, Ruscha quickly became identified as a key figure in the newly-minted Pop Art movement. As with Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Robert Dowd, Phillip Hefferton, Joe Goode, Jim Dine and Wayne Thiebaud, Ruscha entered the foreground as a seminal member of the movement taking hold. The groundbreaking score of the exhibition led America and Europe to take notice of the East and West American coasts’ artistic contributions that deliberately severed ties with the previous generation’s abstractions.
    The effect of signing and much later, topography, lead Ruscha to begin exploring and experimenting with perspective and illusion. His new interest in signing and perspective are expertly visualized in the present lot through his technique which implies a powdered media. Ruscha is able to capture a dense, solid arena on which vividly painted words stand tall, alone and dominate. The mesmerizing effect is such that the pointillist method uses, almost go so far as to blur the boundaries between solid and liquid, real and unreal, 2-D and 3 D; in fact, the present lot is arguably sculptural in the optical effects it captures.
    In addition to influencing his contemporaries and fellow members of the Pop Art movement, Ruscha recalls the work of Giorgio de Chirico, who first juxtaposed commonplace objects in enigmatic contexts. His technique incorporates strong lines and architectural devices, much like Ruscha’s canvas here. De Chirico’s use of perspective takes centerstage in the work,
    The Enigma of a Day, painted in 1914 (cf. Figure 1) where the horizon line is
    emphasized by the deep recession of the planes and perspective adopted.
    Further, Ruscha shares with de Chirico a passion for extreme perspective
    and the submission to new interpretation of everyday objects as they take
    hold in his new, original conceptions. As with Ruscha’s relationship with
    the Pop Art movement, de Chirico was first aligned with the Surrealists as a
    seminal figure but in the latter part of his career pursued a separate artistic
    agenda on his own accord that, while not mutually exclusive of the
    Surrealists, was unique and devoted to a different form of modernity that
    was his own.
    It is revealing to compare the artwork of Anselm Kiefer to Ruscha, as both artists display a fascination with the cultures around them; Ruscha is inspired, as he himself says, by the ‘plastic side of life’, while Kiefer has sought as his specific subject the German experience as exhibited through its history and culture. In spite of the wide incongruity between the artist’s techniques and painterly methods, Kiefer has noted that he is a great admirer of Ruscha’s work. Predating From Reno to Norfolk, Kiefer’s work of 1986 titled Iron Path (cf. Figure 2) clearly illustrates the equivalent passion both artist’s take to the landscape and horizon as subject matter.
    The artist has closely aligned himself with a rebuttal of ‘high-art’, opting instead to incorporate the well-worn text and images of America’s panorama to intriguing end, resulting, of course, in the wide-spread appeal that his art has met. As critic Dan Cameron explains, “The decorative visual effects, lettering and language which Ruscha salvages from American junk culture, are notable for their not having been transformed, cleaned up or otherwise manipulated in an effort to bridge the gap between their everyday existence and the more ethereal domain of art. In other words, despite their economy and precision of means, Ruscha’s paintings maintain a distinct connection to lower middle-class reality, with its implicit repudiation of high culture’s over-exalted expectations.” (D. Cameron, “Love In Ruins”, Edward Ruscha Paintings, Rotterdam, 1990, p. 12).
    Ruscha shares the ever-popular California mystique as a key identifying characteristic with fellow Los Angeles artist John Baldessari; for both artist’s careers have been defined by the Southern California landscape they expressedly reference, albeit in often discrete ways. Baldessari and Ruscha serve as archetypes for the Californian artist, and their work has perpetuated America into the foreground of many key artistic movements.
    Their connection is important to demonstrate, not only as the two are peers, but also as both artists employed in the very beginning of their careers the use of vernacular text from signs. Baldessari’s National City series from 1966 1969 incorporated photo-stills from his hometown in Southern California and the subtext was added by commercial sign painters.
    Ruscha’s critical reception and commercial success in part lends itself to his wide appeal. What is most evident is the artist’s penchant for the American vision of the West as a frontier, an unexplored terrain that sparks our curiosity to discover the new land full of wealth and potential.
    From Reno to Norfolk aligns itself within Ruscha’s principal score of the American panorama, and hearkens to the artist’s essential aims made prominent from his earliest days in his career. Influential in his approach to the concept of line and text, and to the devotion of pedestrian symbols culled from ‘low-art’, From Reno to Norfolk expresses a masculine perspective of the West and America’s open road, a trait continually displayed through Ruscha’s career. The present lot aides us in defining his intrigue and dominance in the field of American contemporary art.

  • 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.

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42

Reno to Norfolk

2000
Acrylic on canvas.
54 x 120 in. (137.2 x 304.8 cm).
Signed and dated “Ed Ruscha 2000” on the reverse.

Estimate
£350,000 - 450,000 

Sold for £468,000

Contemporary Art

22 June 2007, 4pm & 5pm
London