Ed Ruscha: 50 Years of Painting in L.A.

‘Unfortunately, people always want things to be explained, whether it’s the state of the US banking system, or a painting.’ Ed Ruscha     Now, the retrospective ’50 Years of Painting’  moved from London to Munich’s Haus der Kunst. It provides the possibility to explore Mr. Ruscha’s elaborate oeuvre. However, I don’t think his paintings can ever be explained entirely. That is part of what makes them so exciting

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Ed Ruscha: 'Securing The Last Letter', 1964, Courtesy Collection of Emily Fisher Landau, New York, © Ed Ruscha, 2009, Photography: Paul Ruscha

He sourced his motifs often from the trivial: Gas stations, a falling glass of milk, movie images and billboard letters. He contrasts them with abstract or idealized Californian landscape backgrounds. ‘My work is abstract in the sense, that even recognisable objects become just shapes.’


I find most interesting his use of words in painting. Ed Ruscha often ignores the meaning of the words or sentences and uses them simply as an object in a painting.


He says about sounds, ‘There is a certain sound I’ve always been attracted to. It’s the sound of a package of bacon being slept down on a countertop at a butcher’s shop. If I can achieve that in a picture, that is silent, then I have succeeded.’


Ed Ruscha: 'Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights', 1962, Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; © Ed Ruscha, 2009; Photography: Paul Ruscha

Ed Ruscha is probably the best known artist from the Californian ‘Cool School’. It is named after an exhibition at the L. A. based  Ferus Gallery in the late 1950s. Besides Ruscha, there were also pop artists, like Ed Kienholz, Ed Moses and Robert Irwin in the show.


He went to art school in the 1950s in Oklahoma City. There everything was about - the mainly New York based - abstract expressionism. Until he saw works by the pop artist Jasper Johns: Everything that he learned about painting, was different in his work: It was symmetrical; there were recognisable objects assembled within a piece in a strange – not finally explaining – way. You can see this fascination in his early works, like ‘Noice, Pencil, Broken Pencil, Cheap Western’ of 1963.


Ed Ruscha, 10. Feb 2010 at Haus der Kunst; Photo: Jörg Koopmann

He often put an element of movement into flat and static pictures: Many of his words are painted in a zoom or liquid style. The dynamic of a falling glass of milk or the imaginary fire of the L.A. County Museum contrasts the abstract shape of his motif. A similar approach, you can also find in David Hockney’s famous swimming pool painting ‘A Bigger Splash’ of 1967.


Ed Ruscha: 'Los Angeles County Museum on Fire', 1965-1968, Courtesy Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution © Ed Ruscha 2009; Photography: Lee Stalsworth

This excellent retrospective gives you the chance to study the paintings from the 1950s until today. Make sure you bring enough time!


by Chris Neuschler



Ed Ruscha: ’50 Years of Painting’

Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany

Through 2 May 2010




(C) Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
David Hockney: 'Bigger Trees at Warter III' of 2008 (c) courtesy by Kunsthalle Würth


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