The door falls somewhere in the cyan range of the blue-green spectrum, two-panelled, basic; you think maybe you’ve seen it somewhere, maybe it was your door, or even in the trash, on the side of the road in a rough neighborhood. In East Hollywood, there’s a stretch of Normandie between Hollywood and Sunset where I’m positive cheap furniture from all over the city comes to die. My doors these days are four panel jobs, the kind found on on old houses, heavy and steady, but there have been two-panelled doors in my past, slammed shut, locked, kept open with stacks of the more unloved hardcovers. Ed’s door is missing a knob and a deadbolt, both lost somewhere in the act that led to the stain that spreads out around these two bleeding punctures, as if the locks were killed or soaked off, the open holes a double wound. The sky behind it peeking through like a backdrop for Waiting for Godot, a bent metal road sign connects the door to the sky.
The items next to it are harder to classify, despite how clearly Ed chose to render them, so let’s call them simply detritus. Ed, (I’m falling into the familiar names we give heroes or rather Mr. Ruscha might be more fitting for a man old enough to be my grandfather. Ed is what feels right though.) The pot-smoking, sunkissed OKC cowboy trawling the deadpan streets of Los Angeles, camera in hand, tracking gas stations and oversized words, which some call it Pop, but Ed Ruscha’s got his eye set on something larger than Warholian Campbells and Rosenquist fighter planes.
Ed Ruscha, Psycho Spaghetti Western #8, 2010-2011, Acrylic with used motor oil on canvas, 48 x 110 inches (121.9 x 279.4 cm)
When I picture the artist, I see him driving an old Chevy truck, bulbous and unrestored, or a sparky new Thunderbird ragtop, cruising along the broken lines of a well-worn highway heading out of town to the desert to think for a spell or to do that thing that is in-between thinking and driving that feels so satisfying when you’re doing it by yourself in the smog painted twilight of an LA sunset. I imagine him surveying the sides of the highway, alone with the continent, his eyes flickering over all the trash, seen through a pair of aviator sunglasses, fading from a translucent gray to a reflective black as the tinting creeps up the glass.
What else might he see? A tendril of tire like a ribbon, a battered mattress rendered flatly, a bit of motor oil thrown somewhere in the mix. Ed Ruscha is known more for painting spilled words than realist renderings, though these last years he’s had a not very interesting run of mountainous landscapes overwritten with mostly sans serifed words. Realist painting has the occasional revival in American art, but it always has the tang of the conservative, but here it feels like classic Ruscha. The press release from the gallery invokes the Hudson River School, but the spare geometric compositions and the subject matter—common features of American life— feel more like the native son of the Hudson, another Edward, this one Hopper, than any school. Hopper, like Ruscha, ranged around the continent seeking America itself, a lonesome traveller trawling for something a little larger than emblems. Looking back at Ruscha’s work leading all the way up to this current exhibition, Psycho Spaghetti Westerns, I think that though the artist has often wandered in the vast expanse of American wilderness, he’s rarely gotten lost.
Top Image: Ed Ruscha, Psycho Spaghetti Western #4, 2010, Acrylic on canvas, 54 x 120 inches (137.2 x 304.8 cm). All images courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery.