Among the most important artists of his generation, Los Angeles-based Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) has used language in all its forms to construct his artmaking practice. Identified with the West Coast manifestation of Pop Art in the 1960s for his single word and word/image canvases, Ruscha rapidly expanded both the material form of his work and its intellectual range to become one of the leading American conceptual artists. Never abandoning the traditional forms of painting, drawing, printmaking, and photography, he introduced unconventional materials and mediums such as fruit juices, syrup, bleach, and gunpowder to challenge and extend the associations and meanings of his text-based works. He started in the early 1960s making a series of photography-based artist books such as Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1962), Various Small Fires (1964), Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966), and Thirtyfour Parking Lots (1967), which established a new paradigm for the form, and over the last forty years has ended up deconstructing every aspect of the book.
Cover to Cover: ED RUSCHA presents the artist’s most recent investigations of the book as the subject and form of his work, and illuminates the integral role of books in Ruscha’s artistic practice. The current selection moves from actual hardbound books incorporated into paintings of their front covers to a majestic trompe l’oeil canvas, Gilded, Marbled, and Foibled (2011–12) of an historic book opened up to reveal both of its end papers and gilded page edges. Ruscha observes and deconstructs the book as both a physical and cultural object—a single page or whole volume. A series of eight circular paintings on vellum drum heads each feature a quotation from an African-American female character who only speaks in double negatives from James Frey’s 2011 novel, The Final Testament of the Holy Bible. The text arrayed around the circumference of the works physically mimics its verbal redundancy. Ruscha uses the contradiction and ambiguity of the vernacular text to challenge the presumed authority and cultural value of text and the book.