Since the early 1960s, it has been the rigorous and often futile mission of art critics, curators, and scholars to categorize the artwork of Ed Ruscha. The present example, Pencil, Broken Pencil, 1963 exemplifies the elusive task of identifying an art historical category for Ed Ruscha's oeuvre.
As a common everyday object, the ubiquitous yellow pencil makes a perfect Pop image. But it is Pop with a kick as the crisp image of Pencil unexpectedly snaps and becomes Broken Pencil. The lead tip of the broken pencil drops to meet the precise edge of the composition, seemingly pointing out that this is art. Ruscha's decision to render the pencil as actual size, suspended mysteriously on a midnight blue background is closely related to the reality-bending premise of Surrealism. The artist "allows glasses to shatter, pencils to break, comics to slide, land birds to catch water fish because it enriches the recording process" (H. Hopkins, Ruscha, n.p.) In another layer of interpretation, the stark and simple imagery relates to the poetic minimalism of Vija Celmins.
Pencil, Broken Pencil is intensely intimate in its autobiographical nature. The pencil of course renders words which have been Ed Ruscha's career-long obsession. It was just at the time he made this painting and through the mid-1960s that Ed Ruscha authored several independently published books. This imagery is both metaphor for the object and for Ed's endeavors in literature.