Please note that this work will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné: Edward Ruscha Works on Paper 1958-2004, edited by Rainer Crone and Petrus Graf Schaesberg as number D1961.58.
Ed Ruscha's Boulangerie is a key work in the development of his mature style. It documents the influence of Jasper Johns and the dawning of the new aesthetic of Pop Art that Ruscha would come to exemplify.
While an art student at Chouinard Art Institute in the late 1950s Ruscha, like so many of his peers, was drawn to the allure and perceived pure artistry of Abstract Expressionism. His painting style was dominated by the influence of Abstract Expressionist masters like Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning. Early on though Ruscha was unfulfilled by this pursuit. It was in the work of Jasper Johns that Ruscha found the route to escape the banality that Abstract Expressionism had become.
Johns's influence and importance as one of the key bridges between Abstract Expressionist and Pop Art is legendary. Ruscha found a license and freedom in Johns' incorporation of everyday subject matter and the retention of his painterly surface. Johns' work of the 1950s and 1960s insisted and thrived on this high/low paradox. It would take a trip to Europe though for Ruscha, who had been exposed to the work of Johns in reproduction as early as high school, to finally have unlimited access to the artist's work. As Neal Benezra points out, "Ironically, while he had had only limited access to original works by Johns or Rauschenberg in Los Angeles, he found Paris to be a bonanza." (N. Benezra, "Ed Ruscha: Painting and Artistic License," Ed Ruscha, Washington, D.C., 2000, p. 149)
It was during his European sojourn that Ruscha painted a series of oil paintings on paper including Boulangerie. Boulangeries are ubiquitous in Paris. The baguette is as much an embodiment of French culture as is wine. Few words so encompass the passing visual landscape of Paris. Boulangerie is an early example of what will become a mainstay of Ruscha's production--the isolation of a single work floating on a ground of color. Johns' influence is apparent though in the heavy impasto that surrounds the lettering. In Boulangerie Ruscha's exploration of the tactility of paint is apparent reflecting the painstaking attention to surface in works like Johns' Grey Numbers, 1958. Boulangerie is a visually stunning painting and historically a crucial work in Ruscha's development.
Jasper Johns, Gray Numbers, 1958 c Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY