Ruscha at Work

Cotton Puffs, Q-tips®, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha


The word as logo interrupts Ruscha’s thinking early on, words, phrases, articulations. He spends ten years attempting (along the line indicated by this Whitney exhibition) to find an adequate expression. Doggedly he draws words represented as paper strips standing on end calligraphically, in graphite or gunpowder (no paintings here, though MOCA has at least one in its collection). He studies hierarchical word organizations, dissects and parses phonemes and vocables, can’t seem to find anything that will serve his purpose. The complete poem escapes his grasp (again the Whitney misses a bet by not including a “syrup” painting at the Norton Simon Museum, though it does have preparatory drawings for it).

He is completely serene in all this, nothing fazed, year in and out. At last, he stumbles on the important discovery that satisfactorily expresses the idea and fuses the work. It is typography.

First Gothic letters, then sans-serif. Characteristically, he doesn’t settle down to it or seize upon it, he continues awhile at his own pace, until the thing is sure.

From there, he proceeds to develop the image as simple sign, 20th Century Fox becomes a mode of expression, and you have one of the great heroic things artists and inventors do.

Also here is The Chocolate Room. Sheets of paper printed with diluted chocolate cover the walls in overlapping rows, without pictorial interest, the olfactory impression and the general layout suggest by synęsthesia the rustic outdoors.

There is a book among the ancillary items, a collection of stains which would have delighted Neruda, who imagined collecting himself in a single comprehensive blot of ink (one of the minute stains is the artist’s blood).

In another gallery, the Eli Broad Family Foundation presents artists of the Eighties, among whom John McCracken, Llyn Foulkes and Eric Fischl stand out by a mile.