ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)
ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)
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ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)

Light Leaks

ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)
Light Leaks
signed and dated 'Ed Ruscha 2003' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
26 x 50 in. (66 x 127 cm.)
Painted in 2003.
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers, Munich
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2004
R. Dean, ed., Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume Six: 1998-2003, New York, 2013, pp. 376-377, no. P2003.07 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

“I look at these things in terms of geology… You know, how mountains are actually moving all the time. My friend Robert Smithson says that one pebble moving one inch in a million years is exciting enough for him, and I agree.” Ed Ruscha

In this monumental painting, Ed Ruscha investigates how humans attempt to comprehend the vastness and permanence of geological formations. Executed in 2003, Light Leaks depicts a snow-capped mountain range, a brilliant blue sky, and curious, pearlescent streaks of white shining inward on both sides of the canvas. Mountains first emerged in Ruscha’s work in the late 1990s, a natural evolution of his existing fascination with landscape. The hazy white lines are light leaks, an element the artist introduced into his work in the early 1990s. Ruscha’s work is multi-layered; he has many iconic ingredients that he picks apart and combines in new and fascinating ways. Light Leaks is the outcome of Ed Ruscha’s many years of cultivating his oeuvre and setting himself apart in the art world of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Landscapes are integral to Ed Ruscha’s artistic output. In a 1989 interview he said: “I’m a prisoner of the idea of the landscape in painting and it’s something I’ve continued to be tied to. I have a very locked-in attitude about painting things in a horizontal mode. I think I’m lucky that words happen to be horizontal, that letters follow one another with spaces and pauses and then more letters in order to make up words and sentences,” (B. Clearwater, “Ed Ruscha: An Interview,” Art Press, June 1989, pp. 20-25). Atypically for Ruscha, in the present work there are no words, forcing the viewer to confront the landscape. The large canvas, bright blue sky, and vastness of the composition bring to mind the great landscapes of the Hudson River School painters, such as Albert Bierstadt.

The feelings ignited when looking at mountains can be difficult to articulate. For people who spend a lot of time around mountains, they are deeply normal and a comforting, familiar anchor in the landscape. For people raised in the flat plains, however, they can be shocking and overwhelming to behold. From the human perspective, mountains are colossal and unyielding; the fine details of boulders, creeks, flora, and fauna are technically visible but masked by the blur of distance. Compared to the motion of mountains, human lives are fleeting and ephemeral. The “light leaks” serve to deepen these philosophical ponderings. Ruscha uses this motif multiple times in his oeuvre.

Ruscha says that his faux light leak, “mimics the filmic effect of light leaking from a projector,” (Ed Ruscha, "The End (Portfolio)" in J. Stein, Grand Street 49, 1994, p. 120). Ruscha uses an airbrush to produce these pearlescent, hazy stripes. They are a purposeful imperfection, calling attention to the art forms of film and photography. Photographs and paintings will outlive their creators, and the mountains will outlive all humans and everything we create. Ed Ruscha stated: “I look at these things in terms of geology… You know, how mountains are actually moving all the time. My friend Robert Smithson says that one pebble moving one inch in a million years is exciting enough for him, and I agree,” (J. Finkel, “Q&A: Ed Ruscha on ‘Psycho Spaghetti Westerns,’” Los Angeles Times, February 26, 2011).

This transcendent work captures the majesty of natural landscapes and reminds viewers of their own place within the cycles of Earth. Light Leaks reveals to viewers not a specific mountain range, their own memories of grand geological formations. Additionally, it illustrates Ed Ruscha’s lasting contributions art history. He uses the medium of painting to explore the boundaries of language and human emotion, turning the everyday into the unforgettable.

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