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ED RUSCHA | ‘Street Meets Avenue’
April 18th 2024
Excavating into one of the simplest form of conveying information, Ed Ruscha has for more than half a century grabbed the attention of his audience and sparked curiosity. One-word outbursts like ‘HONK’ is painted in yellow characters in a diagonal perspective across the canvas; and inventive statements hover in a stylised typography on top of a graphical landscape. Ruscha’s practice of melting conceptual art with everyday words and imagery in a breezy West Coast style has positioned him as one of the most influential American Pop artists since the sixties - and a trailblazer of the L.A. art scene. In the late nineties, the artist found inspiration in ordinary street maps, releasing a series of well-known intersections; one as classic as Street Meets Avenue.
by Henrik Riis
PRINT EDITION RELEASE
‘PAY NOTHING UNTIL APRIL’ (2003). Four words, written in capital letters on a large canvas is one of many testaments of Ruscha’s genuine love of language and a well-taught flair of presentation. Out of its normal context, the sentence - which to many consumers offers the possibility of instant gratification, later followed by agonising punishment - suddenly hits home to the viewer and evokes an emotion of amusement, or betrayal. Ruscha has no product to sell, he offers no materialistic fulfilment. There, on a snowy, rocky mountainous backdrop with the sun sinking below the horizon, the familiar copy become almost meaningless; isolated from their united might. What is left are four words exalted as an object rather than a piece of informative text.

Fifty years earlier, Ruscha had packed his possessions and headed fifteen hundred miles west to Los Angeles to study graphic design at Chouinard Art Institute, the art school today known as CalArts. Graphic design had always been his calling and his talent was obvious from an early age, as comic books and adverts from magazines were cut out, copied and re-drawn. In ’62, a year after his graduation, he landed a job as a layout artist at the advertising agency, Carson-Roberts. But the young man from Oklahoma City was already making other plans. On the East Coast, a new generation of artists started to make waves in the late fifties, visually protesting against the post-war art world establishment that at the time were dominated by the Abstract Expressionists and Minimalists; artists whose abstract works had no figurative compositions, either appearing as energetic splashes of paint onto canvas - or the contrary - presented in structured, colourful geometrical forms. Opposing the understanding of the abstract and what art could be, the young artists elevated the mundane, everyday items and icons of popular culture and expressed it in various mediums. Jasper Johns recreated the Stars and Stripes in painted wood panels; and Robert Rauschenberg mixed found objects and cut-out imagery from the printed media into artworks.

Focussing on the next layout of a commercial brochure at work - for the purpose of paying next month’s rent - Ruscha spent his after-hours identifying with the growing rebellious Pop Art movement in New York. Glancing out of the window from his office desk in L.A., objects of art were everywhere to be seen. Buildings and parking lots, swimming pools and palm trees, conglomerate logos and in particular: words. The first words that found their way onto his canvasses were short and expressive. ‘OOF’, ‘BOSS’ and ‘HONK’. Some painted flat and others three-dimensional, the capital letters stood out in bold colour against a solid background. His word paintings caught the eyes of Walter and Shirley Hopps of Ferus Gallery, whom during the sixties became an institution for many West Coast artists, and in ’63, Ruscha joined a small prestigious group of artists, such as Robert Irwing and Ed Moses, by having his first solo show at Ferus.

ED RUSCHA
Street Meets Avenue, 2000

Edition of 100
76(w) x 57(h) cm
29.92(w) x 22.44(h) inches
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ED RUSCHA
Street Meets Avenue, 2000

Edition of 100
76(w) x 57(h) cm
29.92(w) x 22.44(h) inches
ENQUIRY
Art is about speaking to each other and by making an enquiry you can have direct conversation with us about artwork you find interesting.
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76(w) x 57(h) cm
29.92(w) x 22.44(h) inches
Lithograph on Rives BFK paper with torn and deckled edge

Signed and numbered on front.
Edition of 100
PRICE
$ 18,620.00 Available from a private collection
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To Ruscha, the sixties would become a defining decade of his artistic practice. An endless source of influence behind many of the significant works the world was yet to see. The photographic booklets of twenty-four parking lots and twenty-six gasoline stations, released between ’63 and ’66, inspired his painted series ‘Standard Station’ (1966); today, a series so representative of Ruscha, that although the artist denies the presence of Monet’s waterlilies in his practice, the perspective paintings of the gasoline stations are exactly that. Other works, such as ‘Hollywood’ (1968), - an L.A. landmark painted and displaced by Ruscha on the Beachwood Canyon hillside from various viewpoints over the years - are settled into the minds of people far beyond the art world.

What followed in the coming two decades was a whirlwind of creativity for Ruscha, embracing the unpretentious and common subject matter of the Pop Art movement. One work was simply a blurry shadow of a rooster, or an elephant affectively titled ‘Jumbo’ ascending on a hill; in a series, painted insects trying to find a “meaningful” existence on canvas, a mystery that the viewer ultimately was the judge of. As random as the crawling insects, some works found a humorous use of language presented on pastel backdrops, suggesting ‘Find Contact Lens on Bottom of Swimming Pool’ (1976), or ‘Hollywood is a Verb’ (1983). By a curious twist of fate, the artist’s challenge to paint his letters via the use of masking tape led to a distinct font-type with sharp, rather than rounded edges, uplifting each of his characters to one that is easily recognised. Unintendedly, Ruscha had created a font so unique that it eventually would reach an iconic status within his word-paintings and become popular culture itself.

In contrast with earlier landscape works, Ruscha started on a series of works in the late nineties on the theme of well-known street locations of Los Angeles. Temporarily gone were the colourful stereotypical rural scenes and instead the artist replicated phantom streets and avenues on spray-painted backgrounds reminiscent of exhausted, toughened, grainy asphalt. The aerial perspectives in ‘Gardner & Sunset’, ‘Vine, Melrose’ and ‘Pico, Flower, Figueroa’ portray a couple of California’s most recognisable intersections, evoking an instant déjà vu whether the viewer is a Los Angelinos, or the accidental tourist. Other works, such as ‘BLVD.-AVE.-ST’ - and the later Street Meets Avenue - appears anonymous, urban and abstract only familiarising itself to a map through the abbreviations and typographically stylised lettering of ‘boulevard’, ‘avenue’ and ‘street’.

The grid-like pattern and wording may not be immediately recognisable as a map, were it not for the text that in itself takes on the appearance of the gritty, flat, monochromatic routes of the city street it denotes. Like many of the artist’s images, Street Meets Avenue features double meanings and wry spirituality. Not only does the images take a cross as its motif, but the condensed words ‘ST’ and ‘AVE’ can also be read as ‘Saint’ and ‘Ave’; the latin words for ‘Hail Mary’. Indeed, the words are the only indication of a human element in Ruscha’s sparse cityscapes and perfectly illustrates his innovative style; one on directness, clarity and economy of means.

Ed Ruscha is unique in that although Los Angeles is undeniable the source of the inspiration of his practice - and often labelled by many as a West Coast artist - the themes he addresses are far-reaching and universal.

Constantly inventive and today well into his eighties, Ruscha continues to be an influential force in the art world in the same way he was in the formative years of the Pop Art movement in the sixties and seventies. A growing interest in the artist’s works in the last decades has led to several major exhibitions and solo shows, as well as prestigious retrospectives in Europe and the United States; most recently at The National Portrait Gallery and Tate Modern, London, and MoMA, New York, in early 2024. Dedicating the entire 6th floor of the Museum of Modern Art to one man clearly evidence Ruscha’s significance, filling the air with the admiration of visitors, and the sweet smell of chocolate from the recreation of the work “Chocolate Room” (1970); a room tiled with hundreds of sheets of paper, screenprinted with chocolate. “ED RUSCHA / NOW THEN” at MoMA was quintessential Ruscha at his best.

One of the first print editions from the series of street intersections, titled Street Meets Avenue, was released in an exclusive collaboration between Ed Ruscha, Hamilton Press and Eyestorm in 2000. Finding inspiration in the larger acrylic on canvas ‘BLVD.-AVE.-ST’, in Street Meets Avenue the grainy, pebbly plane of the road-like surface is created by layers of grey and black inks, slightly softened in the bottom by sprayed patterns of a Glacier Bay blue colour. Printed as a lithograph on Rives BFK wove paper, the edition of 100 is signed and numbered on front.

To view the lithographic edition in further detail and to find more information about Ed Ruscha, visit the artist’s page here.
 
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