Exhibition Paper- Ed Ruscha

Emily Potter

April 24, 2012


Exhibit Paper

Ed Ruscha

At the Denver Art Museum Ed Ruscha’s paintings fill a small area, but expresses much emotion.  His collection On the Road is strongly influenced by Jack Kerouac’s book.  Curators chose to show these pieces in Denver because of its history and atmosphere that fully captured the lines in Kerouac’s novel.  Ruscha’s paintings of mountainous skylines look simple, which is what makes their complexity so interesting.

On the Road was written in 1957 where Kerouac wrote about his own journeys with friends while traveling through America and Mexico in the 1940s.  The novel was crowned as the “model of the Beat Generation”, which was a movement of holy hedonism and bohemian exploration.  The rhythmic poetry, and mentions of drugs and jazz, created a “new pace of prose” that has inspired the times of today.  Both Ruscha and Kerouac have helped shape the cultural landscape the West.  Because of this, it is a natural connection between the two.  Ruscha is often characterized as a Pop Artist since he incorporates “deadpan humor into cosmopolitan” images.  However, his works also indicate a hint of surrealism resulting in the connection of “non-immediately” agreeable words of ironic Pop Art.

Curators chose Denver for On the Road because of the history and mountainous skyline.  Much of Kerouac’s novel was written out on a 120-foot-long scroll and is “set against the backdrop of post-World War II lower downtown Denver.”  Ruscha begins his paintings by inserting Kerouacs excerpts before he begins his astonishing landscapes.   Ruscha’s visions help “preserve the mystique around Kerouac’s enigmatic phrases”.  The white text, in simple font is written on the foreground of the canvas.  The word “mañana” is mentioned three times and is underlined. A tip of a mountain top peaks from the lower middle area of the canvas as if to stab the text.

The first piece that I saw when walking into the gallery was Mañana, 2009.  The acrylic on canvas really made the text pop.  The painting of the clear blue skies with the tip of the mountain top in the lower middle looked like a photograph.  His painting technique was extraordinary and it took me quite awhile to realize that these were paintings and not photographs.  The text added more of a cloud feeling to the work.  With the text being white, I wondered if the text was actually meant to take on the roll of the clouds.   However, I think that the pieces are harder to understand if you have not read the book.  I kept trying to understand the texts, but found the challenge of dissecting the meaning, it took away from the beauty of the painting in its entirety.

Another piece that caught my eye was Greatest Seventy-yard Passer in the History of New Mexico State Reformatory”. This piece caught my eye because of the colors.  At the top it is black that begins to fade into a forrest green colored sky.  The snow packed mountain top peaks over the bottom edge of the canvas to add a touch of white to the composition.  The text really pops against the green and black sky, but then the last word, “reformatory”, begins to blend into the snow covered mountain top.

I really enjoyed this piece.  The balance of the white against the dark background really drew me in.  In this work,  I was not distracted by trying to figure out what the text meant, rather I was lost in my imagination about if I was on the highest point of the painted mountain.  This was the only piece of his that had me imagining being a part of these possibly imaginary places in the world.  It led me off track about what I would be thinking on these mountain tops in relation to the text that was in the foreground.  I realized that the text would have no connection to what I would be thinking if I was on that mountain top.  However, I then began to imagine if I was on the top of that snow filled mountain what it would sound like if I yelled the given text.  Ruscha’s Greatest Seventy-yard Passer… was the only piece of his that actually made me stop and stare, for quite a few minutes, and think about my personal connection to it.  If I didn’t have an immediate connection to the piece, I most certainly took my time with this piece to think about it.  I found it interesting that it was the only piece of Ruscha’s that gave me that experience.

At first I had a hard time truly understanding Ruscha’s exhibition at first, but after research, I understood it a little more.  I can look back at the gallery and write this paper with less criticism as I had originally sketched out.  Ruscha’s work has taught me to find out more about a certain exhibition before I go to see it because the museum is not going to provide much more information than I know going into it.  His work has also showed me that museums do not provide all the answers, either.  I am not the kind of a person who finds it easy to pick up a new book and begin reading it, but this exhibition definitely has changed that.  Ruscha’s work may be considered Pop Art, but it is a new artist that I have personally learned how to respect.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Emily, I enjoyed your essay on Ruscha! Great job! I really liked how you included pictures to enhance your article. I agree with you that it is helpful to find out more before seeing a museum show. knowing more about an artist helps makes the experience better!

    • I agree, as well. Unfortunately, sometimes when I am at a contemporary art exhibit, the point of the art goes right over my head haha. Knowing more about the artists before hand will allow me to engage with the work better. Emily, it is really powerful that your experience at ‘On the Road’ has inspired you to change your museum-visiting routine.

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