ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)
LA Cool: Property from the Laura Lee Stearns Collection
ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)

Western with Fly

ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)
Western with Fly
signed, inscribed and dated 'E. RUSCHA 1967 - gp' (lower left)
gunpowder on paper
14 1⁄8 x 22 7⁄8 in. (35.9 x 58.1 cm.)
Executed in 1967.
Irving Blum Gallery, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1967
L. Turvey, ed. Edward Ruscha Catalogue Raisonné of the Works on Paper, Volume I. 1956-1976, New York, 2014, pp. 193 and 450, no. D1967.43 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

A distinguished master of experimental medium, Ed Ruscha is poised as an artist whose investigations into the aesthetical and conceptual properties of materiality foreground his study of the formal qualities of words. Ruscha’s oeuvre is, at its core, unconventional, as he depicts otherwise commonplace words in provocative ways to probe their semantic and visual resonance. Inspired by the repurposing of everyday subject matter in works by Jasper Johns, Ruscha developed a love for playfully manipulating typography. Ruscha’s mediums are as varied as they are salaciously unpredictable, working with caviar, fruit juice, chocolate, and even blood; here, Ruscha employs gunpowder, its suspension in water giving it the formal qualities of a graphite pencil whilst maintaining the emotional weight associated with the material in American culture. Ruscha’s gunpowder drawings have been widely regarded as ‘one of his most important bodies of drawing’ (L. Turvey, Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Works on Paper, Volume 1, 1956-1976, New Haven, 2014, p. 23) and the present lot is a significant example considering the unique presence of a fly. Like many artists that came before him, such as René Magritte, Ruscha interrogates the conventions of language and visual representation but in an unparalleled and groundbreaking signature style. Working at the nexus between Pop and Conceptual art, whilst demonstrating an interest in reassessing the relationship between the written word and visual culture, the artist’s unique brand of cool is at the forefront of
In Western with Fly, the text at center balances impossibly on its fine edge, exemplary of Ed Ruscha’s famed ribbon drawings. The presence of the fly, buzzing with notions of impurity and waste, bears a striking contrast to the polished structure of the word, evocative of wide open space to roam, manifest destiny and innovation. As the word rests on the mysteriously nondescript ground, the delicate contours of the paper’s flowing cursive lines adopt dynamic highlights and shadows. The elegance of Ruscha’s effortlessly sinuous font is paradoxical considering its communion with the fly, the word ‘Western’ suggesting that Ruscha may be contradicting perceptions of the western world as culturally superior and progressively innovative. This work points figuratively to the varied meanings and collective understandings of the word ‘Western,’ its connotations fraught for some and lauded by others. The West, a constructed icon of advancement, now commiserates with a fly. Alongside other works in this series including Cherry, Soda, Pool and Grapes – works that in form and verbiage reminisce on the lusciousness of the Californian horizon – the present lot eludes to the promise of the West. Collectively, this rendering in gunpowder disputes the wonder they promise, giving the audience a considerable feeling of tension. Western with Fly is an image of gentle elegance and distinct classlessness. An enigma and a satirical homage to the West, the present lot captures Ruscha in his prime.

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