Cultured Magazine

Winter 2016

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244 PHOTO BY SELIN BEN MEHREZ, COURTESY OF GAGOSIAN Into the Desert Ed Ruscha's critically acclaimed show at Gagosian Gallery hints at the vast landscape that continues to drive his work, including the upcoming Desert X biennial. BY JORDAN RIEFE When Ed Ruscha was in the fourth grade, he made one of his earliest noteworthy artworks—a series of murals depicting the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, laid out on butcher paper. Coincidentally or not, this extended horizontal format was one he continually revisited later as an established artist. "I went through a period 25 or 30 years ago, when I was making paintings that were 13 feet long and 12 inches high. They were rubber-band, super- stretched paintings," says Ruscha during a visit to his Culver City studio on the eve of his most recent show, "Extremes and In-betweens," at London's newly opened Gagosian Gallery in Grosvenor Hill. "I had to address the idea of landscape, and giving the eyes a way to see even more than the mind would expect." Another way to address the idea of landscape is as a board member of the upcoming inaugural Desert X, a site-specific biennial running February 25 through April 30, coinciding with Palm Springs' Modernism Week and Coachella in Indio, California. Artists including Lita Albuquerque, Gabriel Kuri, Rob Pruitt, Cyprien Gaillard, Glenn Kaino, Tavares Strachan, Hank Willis Thomas and others to create and install pieces that respond to environmental, social and cultural conditions in the greater Palm Springs area. "A lot of Ruscha's early works were inspired by the desert," says the biennial's artistic director, Neville Wakefield, considering Rocky II, Ruscha's artificial boulder that has been hiding in plain sight somewhere in the desert since 1978. "If you think about Royal Road Test, where he famously threw the typewriter out the window of a moving car and smashed language into the desert ground—even in word paintings there's a sense of the desert." His assessment is spot-on when it comes to Ruscha's latest works: 14 new pieces completed in the past year, including a series of 10 large-scale canvases featuring the ecru and dun-colored backgrounds Wakefield mentions. Words printed in the artist's trademark Boy Scout Utility Modern font descend in size like an eye chart—"Years Months Weeks" or "Tril Bil Mil." "I feel like I'm not attempting to communicate with people. The idea is to make a picture so it is made up of lots of intangibles and paradoxes that may not make intellectual sense," says Ruscha, whose use of text goes back to his beginnings when he worked in typesetting. "If you look at a painting of a bouquet of flowers, the intellect tells you it's all over. You know what it is. So there's no struggle to clarify the purpose of the picture. I'm giving someone a suggester to not solve the painting, but to just look at it as a thing in itself and as a simple picture." His palette for the new works is more somber than in the past, as if the desert entropy he so diligently chronicled throughout his career had finally caught up with him, driving out the sometimes vivid hues of previous works and replacing them with a stark, colorless no man's land. But no such somberness clouds the artist's brow on the day of our visit. Instead, the 78-year- old seems sanguine about the current art scene and the next generation. "Ed's such an incredible father figure to so many artists for so many generations," says Wakefield. "As an Okie, he represents, in a strange way, the sort of Manifest Destiny we're undergoing now where the center of creative interest seems to have moved from East to West." "There are a lot of young artists around who are just attacking their art in real broad, bold ways. And they're making some pretty damn good art," says Ruscha. "There's a hell of a lot that people are doing today that is pretty damn inspiring. So I've got an optimistic view of where the art world is going." Ruscha with Tril Bil Mil, 2016

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