Ed Ruscha is a difficult artist to assign to any particular scholarship or movement in art history. He moves with astonishing ease between
"isms", navigating and overlapping them in surprising ways in his work. He clearly has a Pop sensibility, but Dada, Photo Real, Surreal, and Conceptual among others variously describe his oeuvre.
Most famous for his text paintings, Ruscha is also well known for his virtuoso photo-real compositions such as, Flag, 1999. Ruscha reiterates everyday objects such as pencils and bowling balls, or heroic, iconic images such as tall ships or the American Flag with breath-taking technical skill. He appropriates these images from life, and isolates them in a stylized ground, dislocating them from their original context.
Ruscha has captured the sensibility of the American West in many incarnations in his career. In the present painting, the ready-made image of the flag set against a dazzling sunset is a snap shot of American optimism. The strong diagonal at work in Flag is a technique Ruscha developed in the 1960s in images of Standard Stations and 20th Century Fox to add drama and a cinematic quality to the images. Ruscha strives to achieve an acoustic component in his works, and in Flag, we hear the colossal flag snap in the wind. Ruscha's interest in scale is also at play, and it is logical to assume the inspiring scale of the flag is actual-size. Unlike Child Hassam's flags which were a clear portrayal of American patriotism during World War I, Ruscha's flag is not couched in specific context, allowing wide interpretation by the viewer. Six years after it was painted, with America now at war, the image of a grand unfurled American flag carries an uneasy weight and meaning.