Ruscha Gets Juicy

Splashy and bright, Ed Ruscha’s Made in California conjures a tall glass of orange juice and the storied citrus orchards so integral to Golden State mythology. Published in 1971 by Grunwald Graphic Arts Foundation at the University of California, Los Angeles, and printed by Cirrus Editions, this juicy work cheekily references both its own creation and the commercial tropes that weave through Ruscha’s career.

Created to commemorate the 1971 exhibition Made in California at UCLA’s Dickson Art Center, Ruscha’s Made in California was printed during an especially prolific time for the young artist. Fresh off a stay in London, and, before that, a two-month fellowship with Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Ruscha was coming into his own both as a skilled printmaker and decidedly Californian artist. Like so many of his text paintings and prints, Made in California embodies the artist’s creative concerns with an uncanny economy — in this case, the technical possibilities of printmaking, contradictions in surfaces (like liquids, actual or imitated, on paper), fluidity of text and image, commercial culture/advertising, and the ethos and lore of California as apex of the American West.

“The words function in these prints as found objects,” Siri Engeberg writes for the catalog raisonné Edward Ruscha: Editions 1959-1999, “made more palpable by the letterforms’ trompe l’oeil rendering, which creates a sense of their having been spelled from spilled liquids…” At the time Made in California was made, Ruscha had prior experimented with such substances as Pepto Bismol, tomato paste, chutney, perfume, and even his own blood. And while Made in California contains no actual orange juice, Ruscha employed his skill as an “extraordinary colorist” to closely approximate the precise color.

Perfectly in line with the print’s bold declaration of origin is Ruscha’s choice of printer — having met and worked with Jean Milant during his time at Tamarind, Ruscha again partnered with the printmaker but this time at his newly established Cirrus Editions and Gallery. “Unlike other workshops in the Los Angeles area,” Engeberg notes, “Cirrus made it a priority from the outset to print and publish editions with California artists.” As such, Made in California maintains a special sort of pedigree — and may even emerge as an ur or meta- Ruscha, an overarching reference to the artist himself as well as the myriad California subjects that comprise his work, from Route 66 and Sun-Maid raisins to some Los Angeles apartments and the Hollywood sign.

Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha is known for his detached, cool gaze over the American landscape, its vernacular and built environments. He is a leading voice in contemporary art, consistently subverting the aesthetic and conceptual conventions of photography and painting, as well as the mythic narratives surrounding American culture.

Ed Ruscha was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1937 and grew up in Oklahoma City. He moved to Los Angeles in 1956 to attend what is now the California Institute of the Arts. Upon graduating in 1960, Ruscha began working in commercial advertising, putting him in contact with relationships between image and text and the language of consumerism and popular culture. Ruscha’s early drawings and paintings bucked against the prevailing trend of abstract expressionism, depicting wry, irreverent takes on the banality of the urban landscape. In 1962, Ruscha was included in New Painting of Common Objects at the Pasadena Art Museum, a show considered the first museum exhibition of Pop Art that included works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Wayne Thiebaud.

In 1963, the year Ruscha’s now-famous artist book Twentysix Gasoline Stations was published, he received his first solo show at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. Ruscha made sixteen artist books in the 1960s and 1970s, most of them comprised of photography taken in an antagonistically plain, documentary style, covering subjects such as swimming pools, parking lots and Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966). In his photography and painting, Ruscha does not attempt to idealize his subjects, but rather stares deadpan at the ordinary objects and spaces that exist on the periphery of the experience of our surroundings. Ruscha is also celebrated for his approach to language, which is often amusing, incongruous and common, exploring the multiplicity of words and turning them into solid objects to be contemplated and played with.

Ruscha’s first major retrospective was in 1982 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The cover of the catalog featured a drawing he had made in 1979, with the text: “I don’t want no retro spective.” Ruscha continues to reside in his adopted city of Los Angeles, actively creating work that speaks to our rapidly changing contemporary landscape, the way we use language and our conception of the American ethos.

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