I need to admit something. I have a bit of an “art crush.”
Back in January, Ed Ruscha discussed his life and work with writer and art critic Dave Hickey at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas to celebrate the opening of the Edward Ruscha Papers and Art Collection at the Harry Ransom Center. Even before Ruscha was honored in 2013 by Time magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People,” I admired his work. His art is particularly relevant to me now as I focus on information overload in my own work.
I feel like Ruscha and I are kindred spirits. Ruscha builds artwork from text, always in search of an “elusive truth.” As Ruscha shared with the Blanton audience, he is:
Ruscha admits to being fascinated with found phrases, grabbing words and mutilating them to serve a visual purpose. As critic Hickey noted, Ruscha makes “the word incarnate…it becomes part of the world.”
Ruscha makes us deal with words in a very tangible sense. As Hickey noted, in Ruscha’s works “the text infects the image.” Some of Ruscha’s most famous works incorporate quirky palindromes (“STEP NOT ON PETS” and my personal favorite “TULSA SLUT”) juxtaposed over images of mountains that are themselves visual palindromes. In many of Ruscha’s works, dull yet visually demanding typography (that Rushca fondly refers to as “Boy Scout Utility Modern”) shouts at the viewer to acknowledge and contemplate those unexpected words.
Like me, Ruscha is also interested in the destruction of paper. Ruscha wistfully recalled how much he likes to “flip the pages” of a book, again demonstrating his preference for the tangible, incarnate word over the ephemeral information of today’s ebooks or internet searches. I share Ruscha’s concern that books are “threatened information.”
With “so much in common,” what did I do when presented with the opportunity to speak with Ed after the talk?
Indeed, I believe I channeled my best junior high teenage self and simply froze. As Ed stood inches away graciously chatting with other members of Austin’s art community (damn you, Bale Allen!), I stood there completely at a loss for what to say… “OMG, Mr. Ruscha.! I LOVE your work! I am an artist, too! We have so much in common!!!”
It’s still a bit fuzzy in my memory, but I’m pretty sure that instead of speaking to Ed Ruscha, I ran to the bathroom to text a photo of Ed Ruscha to my art pal in San Francisco. Sigh.
Yes, a missed opportunity to be sure. Perhaps I will do better when I meet Mark Bradford.