Saturday, 31 October 2009

Ed Ruscha at London's Hayward Gallery

Ed Ruscha, b. 1937, studied at the Chouinard Art Institute. In 1956, he left his home in Oklahoma City and drove to Los Angeles, where he stayed. His work is full of the vast emptiness of the USA, highways flanked by industrial units behind chainlink fences, gas stations, advertising billboards with aggressive type. And LA, which he calls a "cardboard cut-out city".

This is a retrospective of 50 years of his work. He started off by painting blown-up words on bright backgrounds, like the "Annie" from the Little Orphan Annie comic strip. He moved on to slogans against scenery, in a utility typeface he designed himself. Sometimes the slogans involve everyday substances, like IT'S ONLY VANISHING CREAM or SAND IN THE VASELINE. He was also experimenting with creating images using anything rather than paint.

He mutated to using a spray-gun to create what looks like LA seen from the air at night, or landing lights on an airstrip. A slogan against this background reads: WEN OUT FOR CIGRETS N NEVER CAME BACK.
Some spray painted canvases have no words. There's a shadowy howling wolf, a galleon, a lonely house. They're like motifs from a cross-stitch kit blown up and given a Gothic twist.

Still in black, grey and white, he plays with cinema EXIT signs, or a high window in what could be a warehouse or barn.

THE END in Gothic script appears on a slipping frame of degraded movie film, with scratch-lines and hairs.

Industrial buildings change function, their original owner's name painted out and a new one emblazoned in red. He says: "I simply observe the cruelty of progress."

The show is at the Hayward until Jan. 10. It then moves to the Haus der Kunst, Munich (Feb. 12-May 2), and the Moderna Museet, Stockholm (May 29-Sept 5).


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