"Each word is an excursion unto itself" (Interview with Edward Ruscha in His Western Avenue, Hollywood Studio conducted by Paul Karlstrom for the California Oral History Project, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, published in Leave Any Information At The Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages Ed Ruscha, ed. Alexandra Schwartz, p. 192).
Ed Ruscha's fascination with the materiality of language has been a central element to his work for over 50 years. Throughout he has explored the visual representation of words as things. Subjecting the forms of letters to a number of illusionist physical treatments: sending them in motion, breaking them, smashing them, dropping them, setting them on fire; Ruscha has revealed some of the deeper poetic meanings of language that elude us in daily speech.
West is the culmination of the artist's "Romance with Liquids", a period during which Ruscha produced a series of paintings and works on paper of words that appeared to have been formed by spilling various liquids onto the surface of the canvas. Words float, suspended in mid-air evoking the weightlessness of the manned space flights of the era. The liquids coalesce into forms as if held together by a force stronger and stranger than gravity.
A sensuous, fluid poetry is generated by what Ruscha has characterized as "taking another route". In this case the direction Ruscha travels would be West. Collapsing the expansive horizons of the American West into a few accidental puddles of water, Ruscha is able to compress the beauty of the sun-drenched promise of California and the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.
Times West Magazine, a supplement to the Sunday edition of the paper, was a lauded paragon of graphic design. It is the only one of five transparent liquid word paintings on a sky blue backdrop that is in private hands and therefore West presents a singular opportunity.
"I find that the pictorial look of something almost always stays close to the word that represents it, such as "sunset", "desert", "beach", and then you can keep moving on and on. Pretty soon you've pretty well described Los Angeles" (Ibid., p. 150).