Author: Damian Mendieta
Gleaming under beams of light and handsomely contrasted against a spacious white backwall, Ed Ruscha’s work, spanning various mediums, provokes inquisitiveness and astonishment for all visitors to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Famous for fusing text into his art, Ruscha has produced innovative works since the 60s. From Sept. 22 until Jan. 21, LACMA’s Broad Contemporary Art section will host “Ed Ruscha: Standard” featuring an assortment of over 100 art pieces. The exhibit coincides with the museum’s Fall 2012 Art + Film gala which will celebrate filmmaker Stanley Kubrick and Ruscha in a special ceremony on Oct. 26 and 27.
Upon walking into the spacious exhibit, a particular screen print attracts attention with its glaring ruby red gas station entitled “Standard” (1966). The namesake of the exhibit, “Standard,” is one example of the long-lasting recognition that set the stage for Ruscha’s future work. Influenced by John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil trust, the image depicts the tightening noose petroleum had upon the landscape of America and, as the hazy, vermillion smog-infested sky shows, the environment.
On his work Ruscha said, “I like the idea of a word becoming a picture, almost leaving its body, then coming back and becoming a word again.” His 1962 depiction of canned Spam in “Actual Size” is a prime example of his interest in words transforming into pictures.
The image of canned spam commands attention as its massive dimensions are anything but realistic. As one looks closer, however, it becomes evident that the huge canvas oil work of Spam is actually a background. A smaller, finely detailed can of Spam is plastered along the bottom white area of the larger image of Spam, as a trailing golden-yellow streak with the words “actual size” follows the tiny container. The smaller image directs attention away from the magnificent background and focuses on the actual dimensions of a can of Spam, and also provokes thought about looking at things with a sharper eye.
A collection of photos displays the structure and contrast of several Los Angeles parking lots. These images, taken at a birds-eye view, focus on the arrangement of car parks. The prints have the ability to depict often-forgotten aspects of the city and suburban areas. By analyzing Ruscha’s images, one notes the structural harmony or chaos that exists within the urban sprawl, Elysian Park, a suburban community college and a residential neighborhood.
Ruscha’s gloominess evaporates with his colorful four-color horizontal etches. “Man Walking Away From It All” (1980) shows a lonely figure bearing the burning sun upon his shoulders. However, the horizontal lines that dominate the landscape break to allow the man passage and relief from natural as well as implied personal burden. It’s almost as if the iridescent orange-red sunshine is the one leaving, as the man gets approached by shadows. Vibrant and alive, the left hand side of this etch sharply contrasts the approaching and mysterious dark area on the right peripheral of the work.
Among Ruscha’s paintings, photographs and etches there also hang several regal works of lithography that enshrine L.A.’s Hollywood sign. His first rendition of the great white letters was in 1968, wherein he portrayed the iconic sign in bright pristine white with a backdrop of an empowering horizon of black, orange and golden sky.
After his 1968 work, he created several more lithographs of the Hollywood sign. Different from the paramount image of 1968, his later Hollywood signs do not include the previous luster. Rather, they are riddled with decay and the ravages of time. Not only does the white text fade and wane in splendor, but the once lively cityscape becomes a barren wasteland of gray and black hues. The letters are portrayed as nearly completely crumbled and are ultimately shown as a skeletal figure of what was once a glorious L.A. icon.
The artist often uses words in his works, depicted by water bubbles, smoke and commercial products such as the aforementioned can of spam. Words and phrases like sin, heaven and hell, steel, ripe, noise and The End reflect upon the artist’s views and thoughts. Ruscha’s autobiographical influences are evident in his heavy focus on corrupted landscapes, his pursuit of finding some sense in urban chaos and his depiction of changing environmental skies besieged by the oil industry.
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