In 1956, a 19 year-old Ed Ruscha drove across America from his hometown in Oklahoma to an alluring and promising future in the wild west of California. The roadside signs along the way proved to be among the most influential cues in his artistic life. On arrival in California he worked as a typesetter, a sign painter, and in commercial design laying out ads and designing book covers.
In 1958, he made his first painting of a word entitled, Sweetwater. Since that time, Ruscha has appropriated and painted words that populate his personal life and the common culture around him. He captures and reiterates these words in his art, isolating them in the landscape of his picture planes, reloading them with new meaning and his characteristic wit and charisma.
In the 1960s Ruscha created some of his most iconic compositions focusing on famous images in his adopted home of Los Angeles, including 20th Century Fox, the Standard Station, the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, and the celebrated Hollywood sign.
Hollywood Study #3, he merges remarkable graphic skill with vernacular language in a Pop sensibility. The letters come at us on a diagonal--we see them at this angle as if driving by the sign, which animates the letters and gives us a sense of speed. Ruscha layers in rich pallette of pastels, setting the letters of the sign dramatically against a flaming David Lean sunset. They feel heroic and romantic, evoking the end of a Hollywood movie, or the opportunities of a life in LA. He captures the sensation of the city--an open place, a hopeful place, dramatic in beauty and full of possibility. Ruscha's words often float in undefined space and time in his compositions. But in Hollywood, the letters are quite literally grounded in the Hollywood Hills--enveloped in a particular landscape, at a particular time of day. Blazing in this "special effects" sunset, the Hollywood sign presides over the city. But of course, the letters are propped up, a fagade, begging the question, is Los Angeles paradise found, or a mirage, a movie-made myth?