A pioneer in the Los Angeles 1960s Pop and Conceptual Art scenes, Ruscha has become one of the most respected and influential artists in the world, recognized and celebrated by international museums and collections. With his language-based paintings and his investigations of the American landscape, Ruscha has chronicled the transformations of popular culture and created a new contemporary aesthetic that combines the classic with the vernacular, discovering a cool perfect elegance in the dullness of junk space.
From his childhood cartoon drawings to his work as a professional sign painter, Ruscha’s early influences remain at the heart of his practice. His gunpowder, pigment, and pastel drawings of words incorporate industrial typefaces and illusionistic renderings of text that flow like ribbons or liquid across the paper. Often illuminated by flashes of searchlights, Ruscha’s paintings of common objects and urban night scenes evoke atmospheres culled from Hollywood movies, casting a dark shadow on American myths of affluence and success. His paintings of deadpan phrases such as “I Dunno” and “Just Us Chickens” read like absurdist love poems written in the sky. In Ruscha’s work, language and architecture are used to build pictures that radiate with the optimism of 1950s highway billboards – heavenly roadside visions as tempting and fleeting as a mirage.
For the High Line, Ruscha will present his first public commission in New York City, a large-scale work hand-painted by a professional mural company on the side of an apartment building adjacent to the High Line at West 22nd Street. One of his few public art works ever realized, Ruscha’s mural combines his interests in architecture, language, and public space to create a dry and humorous commentary on life in the contemporary metropolis. Like many of Ruscha’s greatest works, this new commission both exalts and criticizes the romance of city life, instantly turning the urban experience into a dialogue worthy of a Hollywood comedy or a Jack Kerouac novel.
Camouflaged in the architecture surrounding the High Line, Ruscha’s giant street sign reads like a speech bubble emanating directly from the streets of New York – a collective thought balloon hovering on the High Line like a silent soundtrack for a new symphony of the city.
Photos by Timothy Schenck.