Ed Ruscha puts the Pop into Pop Art

All American artist Ed Ruscha absorbs his surroundings then throws it all back out there

Ed Ruscha was born into a rigid Catholic upbringing in the late thirties. Oklahoma City, where he spent most of his childhood was a world dominated by farming, machinery and big open landscapes; art wasn’t a common career choice. So Ruscha (pronounced Rew-shay) must have had incredible drive and clarity of mind to end up exhibiting at some of the world’s most influential galleries, such as Whitney Museum of American Art and the Hayward Gallery in London.

His works play equally with typography and humour. Canvases with words splashed or carefully etched across them are titled with what they say. It’s simply too easy to enjoy them, but as the years went by and Ruscha entered the eighties, some of the paintings gained a slightly sinister edge. Check out this looming ‘Now’. It’s rather reminiscent of the famous shower scene in the 1960’s film Psycho: a shadowy silhouette holds aloft a knife behind the shower curtain, veiled, threatening.

I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today

And yet a good deal of Ed Ruscha’s paintings are a lot more innocuous, perhaps saying nothing, perhaps commenting on American life. One can always read more into art, that’s the beauty of art – the viewer puts their own personal stamp on it just by looking and processing. What do you think?

Indecision, 1982

As well as playing with typography, Ed Ruscha experimented further with unusual materials through the years. In 1973 he exhibited a series entitled ‘Stains’ using household stuffs from ketchup and egg yolk to blood and grass.

Pop artists often display a wry sense of humour in their work, but then they were living in an era of dramatic change. Globalisation and capitalisation were tearing through their realities, new twin tornadoes to be embraced or shunned. Either way they had to be commented on.

Smashed Box Flat, 1961

Images courtesy of Ed Ruscha http://www.edruscha.com

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