ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)
ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)
ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from a Private American Collector
ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)


ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)
oil on canvas
59 ¼ x 54 ¾ in. (150.5 x 139.1 cm.)
Painted in 1967.
Edwin Janss, Los Angeles
Dagny Janss, Los Angeles
Stephen Mazoh & Co., New York
Private collection, Dublin
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 19 November 1997, lot 267
Private collection, Malibu
Anthony D'Offay Gallery, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2000
R. Dean and P. Poncy, eds., Ed Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume One: 1958-1970, New York, 2003, pp. 244-245, no. P1967.12 (illustrated).
Picturing Ed: Jerry McMillan's Photographs of Ed Ruscha 1958-1970, exh. cat., Los Angeles, Craig Krull Gallery, 2004, p. 40 (studio view illustrated).
Eindhoven, Van Abbemuseum, Kompass 4: West Coast USA, November 1969-January 1970, p. 35 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Alexandre Iolas, Edward Ruscha, January-February 1970.
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Edward Ruscha, Romance with Liquids, Paintings 1966-1969, January-February 1993, pp. 44-45 (illustrated).
Houston, The Menil Collection, July 2000-October 2001 (on loan).
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Brought to you by

Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

I like the idea of a word becoming a picture... almost leaving its body, then coming back and becoming a word again.Ed Ruscha

With its juicy splash of luscious red set against a backdrop of vibrant yellow-green, Ed Ruscha’s Ripe is one of the most striking of the artist’s word paintings that he executed in 1967. An exemplary example of his interest in form, this work belongs to an important group of paintings that Ruscha executed following his now iconic renderings of Standard stations. Furthering his investigations into the formal qualities of words which he began in earnest with OOF, 1962 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), in Ripe the artist not only deftly renders the fluid silhouette of the word’s shape, but also the three-dimensional qualities of the liquid too as it appears to sit on the surface of the canvas. It is this tension between the formal qualities of the word, and what the word has come to signify that helps the artist in his choice of what to depict. Thus, Ripe is one of the earliest word works in which Ruscha introduces the appearance of three dimensionality onto the surface of the canvas, a technique that would later morph into his liquid paintings.

Across a bright lemon yellow background, Ruscha renders the word ‘Ripe’ in rounded forms. Each of the four letters defies any recognized font, their curvaceous silhouettes seemingly controlled only by the physical weight of the material it proports to represent. The precision with which Ruscha renders these liquid forms is remarkable, from the sharp outline of the letters, to the light reflecting off the shiny surface of the liquid. Populated by many small seeds, the viscous form resembles pomegranate juice, a fruit heavily laden with symbolism, as since the middle ages it has been seen as a representation of life and fertility, or—conversely, because of its color—power, blood, and subsequently death. However, what the liquid does or does not represent is not the primary concern for the artist. For Ruscha is more interested in the tensions between the forms and their environment rather than a specific relationship between the two; “I’m dead serious about being non-sensical” he maintains (E. Ruscha, quoted in “Ed Ruscha and Everyday Art, via https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/edward-ruscha-1882/ed-ruscha-and-art-everyday [accessed 6/10/2021].

The primary focus of Ruscha’s word paintings is the way in which the artist plays with language, often using onomatopoeic words, puns, or alliteration. He frequently inserts them over anonymous or unrelated backgrounds, resulting in contrasting meanings. Many of his early works, such as the present example, often depict plosive words, but are rendered in softer—more innocuous forms—that their dramatic and forceful pronunciation might suggest. Ruscha originates these words from a variety of sources: books he’s reading, billboards, advertising, or just words he sees around him in his hometown of Los Angeles, “…the words I use come from every source,” he says. “Sometimes they happen on the radio and sometimes in conversations. I’ve had ideas come to me literally in my sleep and I tend to believe in blind faith, that I feel obliged to use” (E. Ruscha, ibid.).

Consequently, Ripe becomes more about form than it is about meaning, and just like Jasper Johns’s Targets, Gray Numbers, or Gray Alphabets the ‘subject matter’ becomes a motif for investigating these forms. “I was mostly alerted to this world of art by Jasper Johns,” Ruscha recalled, “and I imitated him in my early work… the first Johns I saw—it was one of the target paintings, I think—went counter to everything I’d been taught. There were other aspects to it, too. Using recognizable objects, and putting them together in a mysterious way—it broke a lot of ground for me” (E. Ruscha, quoted by K. McKenna, “Ed Ruscha in Conversation,” in Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 2010, p. 56).

Words have been an important part of Ruscha’s ever since the beginning of his career, and first appeared as subject matter in 1959. With this interest he was building on a tradition that dates back to Picasso and Braque, who both used words and texts in their early Cubist collages. This was further advanced by the Dada artists, who played with the semantics and often introduced radical new meanings and interpretations into words and phrases by their unique form of visual presentation. The Dadaists proved to be an early influence on Ruscha, with clear parallels between their work and his use of words in often playful and ambiguous ways.

Although his career took off in the early 1960s, and he used materials from popular culture as his starting point, Ruscha never considered himself to be a Pop artist like his East Coast contemporaries Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Curator Ralph Rugoff, in his essay written for the artist’s 2010 retrospective organized by London’s Hayward Gallery, said “Ruscha has played a crucial role in bringing painting into conversation with changes across the larger contemporary landscape. Retooling the mechanisms of our routine perception with a finely-honed sense of secular wonder, his paintings have illuminated the intersection of popular culture ordinariness and grandeur, the mundane and the sublime” (R. Rugoff, “Heavenly Noises,” in R. Rugoff, Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 2010, p. 11).

“Arbitrary elements together with arbitrary actions have great value. It is not something to be sought out, but when it happens by accident it can be truly great. So, when you mix the arbitrary with the accidental it can be monumentally confusing. It can also be a breakthrough.” Ed Ruscha

Yet, in some ways, there are parallels between Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Ruscha’s artistic beginnings. All three pursued early careers as draughtsmen or illustrators before turning to ‘high’ art satisfy their creativity, and both found inspiration in the explosion of commercial imagery they saw around them. “Ruscha has often recounted his early fascination with commercial art and a parallel frustration with painting. Initially Ruscha’s work as a commercial artist simply outweighed any compulsion to paint. I n time he recoiled his doubt, conjoining his interest in vernacular imagery, typography, book design, filmmaking, and photo-documentary work with an emerging desire to paint. Paradoxically it was his work in a wide variety of nontraditional media, and a distrust of the career path of a painter, that enabled Ruscha to overcome his uncertainty and freed him to create paintings of striking originality” (N. Benezra, “Ed Ruscha, painting and Artistic License,” Ed Ruscha, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington. D.C., 2000, p. 145).

In a work such as Ripe, Ed Ruscha successfully connects the painterly tradition with the contemporary culture of advertising and mass-media. This culture would eventually spread beyond the United States and artists such as Ruscha, Warhol, and Lichtenstein not only became the messengers, their works would also form part of the message, part of the universal language of art that reigned for much of the rest of the century. As Jeffrey Deitch pointed out, "Ed [Ruscha] tuned in to a particularly contemporary kind of consciousness, a mode of thinking that would not really have been possible until the late 1950s or 1960s. It is the state of mind of someone driving in a car in a sort of automatic pilot mode, a kind of meditation in which street signs, billboards, palm trees, apartment houses, etc., loom in and out of consciousness with a neutral evenness of impact. This is a mode of consciousness that may have first emerged in Los Angeles, but with the globalization of California culture, it is something that is experienced world-wide. This state of mind is comparable to the television viewer's stupor, another semi-meditative state in which words and images float on and off the screen as the words float over the surface of Edward Ruscha's paintings" (J. Deitch, Edward Ruscha: Early Paintings, exh. cat., Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, 1988, n.p.).

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