Ever since 1956, when Ed Ruscha drove his souped-up Ford from his hometown in Oklahoma to an alluring and promising future in California, roadside signs of have been among the most influential cues in his artistic life. The dialectical relationship between the written word and landscape mattered centrally to Ruscha. He perhaps most famously examined this in his images of the Hollywood sign, which establishes his adopted home in Los Angeles as his principle subject. Ruscha's Hollywood Study #4 from 1968 is one of his earliest studies of this landmark, and is consistent with his most reknowned works, reductively yet playfully synthesizing the text and its backdrop.
Having photographed L.A.'s streetscapes, parking lots and swimming pools, as well as registering it in his paintings, Ruscha began his Hollywood sign studies to prepare for a series of silk-screen prints. In 1966, art collector Audrey Sabol formally introduced Ruscha to the world of printmaking, suggesting they work together on recreating one of his early paintings, Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas (1963). Attracted to the look of the printed word and the confluence between art and communication, Ruscha soon discovered the ideas used in one medium could be translated into the other and he successfully adapted several paintings into screen print form. Ruscha's seminal Hollywood (1968) had no painted antecedent but would become one of his most celebrated images from this period, and would serve as the inspiration for a series of paintings produced almost a decade later.
Hollywood Study #4 lends a resolutely hand-made quality to Ruscha's typically flat, commercial style, merging his remarkable graphic skill with vernacular language in a Pop sensibility. Ruscha's interest in the interplay of word and image owes much to advertising and film. By placing the letters at a diagonal, he not only animates the word as if it was sliding by a car window, but also heightens the cinematic quality of the image's panoramic composition. Although Ruscha literally grounds the letters in a specific landscape, the image evokes rather than a faithful represents, its simplified form representing an idea disassociated from reality. Hollywood Study #4 relocates the familiar sign to the crest of Mount Lee, setting it against a dramatic flaming sunset that suggests the heat, glamour and celluloid gloss idealistically associated with the Tinsletown myth. In this way, Ruscha emphasizes a dreamscape that transcends regional particularities and locates itself in the broader cultural imagination. "'Hollywood' is like a verb to me," Ruscha has stated, "It's something you can do to any subject or any thing. You can take something in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Hollywoodize it....'Hollywood dreams' -- I mean think about it. Close your eyes and what does it mean, visually? It means a ray of light, actually, to me rather than a success story. And so I play around with the ray of light rather than with the success story...I'm not so much interested in words as I am in the evocative power of them, rather than their poetic power" (E. Ruscha, quoted in E. Ruscha, Leave Any Information at the Signal, Cambridge, 2002, p. 221.)