This work will be included in the forthcoming Edward Ruscha catalogue raisonné.
For a lifetime, Ed Ruscha has had a penchant for words. The way they sound and look, the way they change their meaning from one context to another, their cultural and political charge, and how their message is measured by each of us differently. The words-as-subject in Ruscha's art are found. Borrowed from his life, they are appropriated from signage, text he has read, snippets of conversations he has had or overheard. Ruscha has appropriated the language of popular culture through commercial brands such as SPAM and Standard. And he has appropriated the discrete and personal language of his life with such words as Desire, Ruby, and Adios.
Despite his love of labels, Ruscha himself has long dodged art historical categorization. Art historians have tried to assign him to many categories, but he fits them each so nicely as to defy them all. Realist, Surrealist, Dadaist, Conceptualist, Pop Artist, Landscapist, Still-Life painter are all descriptions that he slips in and out of, to name a few.
News is a monumental painting with nearly human scale letters standing in the foreground like four silhouetted figures. The word is without context--a fragment with layers of meaning and as many associations as the viewer can make. Because of the massive scale and the lack of context, these familiar letters which are symbols of sounds are seen in the Johnsian context for themselves, as their shapes describe them. If Ruscha intends a hierarchy of meaning, it is difficult to discern. " This overall sense that the artist prefers to conceal his tracks is very much in keeping with Ruscha's relationship to language itself, where the desire and capacity to describe and articulate is underplayed in favor of languages more common tendency to spill over with unintended, accidental meaning." (D. Cameron, Ed Ruscha Paintings, 1990, p. 15).
In 1970, Ruscha made a portfolio of seven lithographs with the rhyming words, News, Mews, Pews, Brews, Stews, Dues, News. Here he experiments with the humorous sounds and rhyming word play. In News, 1990 however, the charm and humor are replaced by the strength of the single word that reads more like a herald or a warning. "The fewer the letters in the message, the stronger is the role of each letter, obviously, but also the stronger is the message in general. One only has to think about, for example, 'SOS' or 'Mayday'. The suggestiveness of the letters is enhanced by their scarcity, in a general way" (Ibid., p. 22).
Andy Warhol, 129 Die in Jet (Plane Crash), 1962, Museum Ludwig, Cologne c 2004 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/ARS, New York