In Black Hollywood, a vast expanse of horizon and sky unfolds with cinematic drama. Using the vernacular of the Western landscape, Ed Ruscha presents the iconic billboard in all its mythic glamour. By the 1960s, Ruscha began producing his most iconic pictures, recreating the imagery of Los Angeles by using subjects like 20th Century Fox, the Standard Station, and the celebrated Hollywood sign.
In this 1982 work, the artist seamlessly blends gradients of black oil paint to merge illusionistic depth with the two-dimensional flatness of text. Just as in Hollywood (Engberg 7), Ruscha slightly angles his lettering to give it a sense of velocity. In the later Black Hollywood, however, Ruscha diverts attention away from the word as a familiar visual form by using his own, intentionally bland font that he calls, "Boy Scout Utility Modern." Here, the horizontal text highlights the drama of the wide pictorial space. According to Ruscha, "the Hollywood sign is actually a landscape in a sense. It's a real thing and my view of it was really a conservative interpretation of something that exists, so it almost isn't a word in a way-it's a structure" (E. Ruscha, Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages, A. Schwarz (ed.), Cambridge, 2004, p. 248).
The work's horizontal format and dramatic lighting is reminiscent of a widescreen, classic black-and-white film. Ruscha also imbues Black Hollywood with same allure and illusion as its movies. Hal Foster describes Ruscha's approach to the iconic text, "presenting them keyed up like special effects, as if they were the only public figures left to portray, the truly dominant features of the landscape" (H. Foster, 'At the Whitney,' London Review of Books, Vol. 26 No. 17, 2004, p. 29). Yet in this 1982 work, Ruscha depicts the text on diminutive scale, dwarfed by the giant, anonymous landscape. In Black Hollywood, Ruscha renders the bittersweet reality of Los Angeles as a movie-made myth-larger than life in its beauty and promise, but ultimately an illusion projected by film.