Ed Ruscha - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 15, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Within the grand theatre of Ed Ruscha’s singular career, Doric is a superb example from the artist’s iconic body of works portraying expertly rendered sfumato columns. One of just five of these crepuscular paintings bearing twilight porticos, Doric is the one Ruscha chose as a model for Brave Man’s Porch, executed the same year and included in the 1997 Whitney Biennial. Doric presents the silhouette of the eponymous column, emerging from a dusky backdrop of vaporous light. Rich in its saturated black tone, the column and edges of the building commingle in a grainy grisailles effect against the hazy glow of sky, creating a gauzy aura of cinematic theatricality.


    Starkly departing from the vibrantly hued skies depicted in the sunset paintings of the 1970s and 1980s, Doric and its peers mark the artist’s shift toward a photorealistic tendency, in which the hand of the artist is renounced in favour of a photographic, film noir aesthetic, veritably crackling with kinetic energy. Doric’s thrilling simplicity belies the technical skill with which Ruscha executed this electrifying and seductive painting which, in its visual immediacy has become a hallmark of the artist’s oeuvre. Ruscha creates drama here with the advancing spectre of the Doric column against the pearly glow of sky behind it. Within the three orders of Ancient Greek and later Roman architecture, the Doric column is heavier and more substantial than the Ionic or Corinthian, a weighty presence solidly occupying the foreground of the present work. Against the historical and visual gravity of the column, Ruscha feathers the paint into the impalpable ivory atmosphere.  

    Detail of the present work  CAPTION: Detail of the Parthenon, Werner Forman Archive / Bridgeman Images
    Detail of the present work.
    Detail of the Parthenon, Werner Forman Archive / Bridgeman Images.

    Among the limited grouping of ‘silhouette’ paintings that first began to appear in the 1980s, Doric exemplifies both the artist’s technical triumph with a spray gun as well as his fascination with cinematography and tropes of the Hollywood film industry. In the artist’s own words, ‘If I’m influenced by the movies, it’s from way down underneath, not just the surface. A lot of my paintings are anonymous backdrops…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.’i


    This allure and magnetism that the silver screen held for Ruscha is further reflected in these paintings of the 1980s in the painterly devices and atmospheric aura that evoke celluloid film reels. Ruscha’s manipulation of paint through the spray gun creates an enchanting mood that seduces the viewer into this incomprehensible scene – a mere clip from a broader narrative, beautiful in its brevity. Indeed, the closely cropped image of the Doric column looms dramatically against the otherwise ethereal atmosphere, creating a sense of impending action, as if the viewer were behind a camera quickly zooming into this ridge of the porch. The column and structure’s solidity against the ghostly glow of silver flecked light blurs indeterminately into vague granularity and creates a wistful and nonspecific nostalgia central to Ruscha’s practice.


    Ed Ruscha, Hollywood, Tate, London Photo: Tate © Edward Ruscha
    Ed Ruscha, Hollywood, Tate, London Photo: Tate © Edward Ruscha

    Born in Oklahoma City, Nebraska, Ruscha moved to Los Angeles in the 1950s where he took up work as a sign painter and commercial graphic designer, work that allowed him to forge an entirely new artistic vocabulary all his own. Flatly rejecting the ‘artist as tortured genius’ ethos of the Abstract Expressionists, and unconvinced by the Pop Artists, Ruscha looked to individuals whom he admired – for example Marcel Duchamp and Jasper Johns – without ever fully committing to their artistic tendencies. Ruscha’s embrace of a less individualistic style in favour of a more literal and visual ‘hands off’ style is beautifully embodied in the present work.

    i Ed Ruscha, cited in Cotton Puffs, Q-Tips, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha, (exh. cat.), Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, 2004, p. 21

    • Provenance

      Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles
      Mark Moore Gallery, Santa Monica
      Gallery Seomi, Seoul
      Kukje Gallery, Seoul
      Max Lang Gallery, New York
      Mark Neuberger Collection, New York
      Sotheby's, New York, 16 May 2007, lot 301
      Private Collection, Belgium
      Phillips, New York, 16 May 2014, lot 236
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Seoul, Gallery Seomi, Edward Ruscha, 30 July - 20 August 1996

    • Literature

      Robert Dean and Lisa Turvey, eds., Edward Ruscha Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings Volume Five: 1993-1997, New York, 2012, no. P1996.09, p. 254 (illustrated, p. 255)

    • 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.

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signed, titled and dated 'Ed Ruscha 1996' on the reverse; titled 'Doric' on the overlap; signed, titled and dated 'EDWARD RUSCHA - 1996 ''DORIC''' on the stretcher
acrylic on canvas
137.5 x 101.9 cm (54 1/8 x 40 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1996.

Full Cataloguing

£400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for £441,000

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+44 7391 402741


Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2021