This work will be included in the forthcoming Vol. Two of the Ed Ruscha catalogue raisonné as number P1980.06.
It is fair to say that Ed Ruscha has always had a romance with words. He is enamored of their acoustic, their layered elastic meanings, the provocative possibilities of interpretation, and the beauty of their very shapes and sizes. Ruscha's romance with language pre-dates his life as an artist. Growing up in Okalahoma, word play was a Ruscha family pass time. And upon coming west to Los Angeles as a young man in 1956, he experimented with careers in commercial sign painting, book making, printing, and making photographs - all disciplines which have informed his work since he dedicated his life to making art full time in 1958. "I guess the idea of noise, of visual noise, somehow meant something to me, and still means something to me - the idea that you can say a lot in a small given area, somehow has always intrigued meand this seems to be one of the principal guidelines in my work I never forget, that I have a given space in which to make noise, or lose sight of the idea that it is going to echo whatever I feel." (Ed Ruscha in Conversation with Ed Ruscha, by Bernard Blistene, 1990.)
Romance, 1980 is one of the earliest examples of a series of paintings of words over sunsets, night skies and wheat fields. These ephemeral images of nature capture the fleeting passage of time, and lend immediacy to the image. This series provides an elegant twist on the traditional figure-ground relationship. In the present work, the figures are the letters rolling out Romance diagonally across the canvas. The plunging letters over the crimson sunset radiate a red-hot love affair. As they make their precipitous drop, we linger on each letter, which vary like the cutout words of a ransomed note reminiscent of Ruscha's masterful work In the Year of our Lord 1984, painted one year earlier. The variation causes one to read the painting slowly, pausing on the shape and style of each letter and allowing one to actually see the letters in the Johnsian tradition. Each letter is a subtle surprise and the word evolves unpredictably with the artist showing equal interest in the letters themselves, the meaning of this word, and the act of painting itself. Ruscha's painting process is exemplary, and while we are invited to absorb his graphic compositions from a distance, on close inspection, one understands how carefully and sensitively the composition is rendered, rigorously crafted by the inch.
"That cool that Ruscha uses seems to come from a self awareness in this relation to his material, to the letters for example; he has loved letters since he was a kid. Ruscha does not write on his pictures, the writing is (in all clear-cut cases) the picture, there is no filter, nothing in between, no trick, no choice. The result does not look like a decision. It is radiating its own evidence in the same way as a beautiful living organism." (Pontus Hulten, Ed Ruscha, Writing on a Picture, Paris, p. 19).
Caspar David Friedrich, Riesengebirge, c. 1830-1835 Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Photo: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz/Art Resource, NY