In his silhouette paintings, Ed Ruscha's subjects appear as vague and mysterious objects imperiled by the distant horizon’s encroaching darkness. The present work's proud rooster serves as the quintessential emblem of the romantic, heroicized world of American agrarian culture and resonates with Ruscha's own roots in Oklahoma. Forsaking the hard edged geometry that characterized much of his early paintings, Ruscha began to explore the aesthetic possibilities achieved with an airbrush and the loose, evocative edges it yielded. Also of interest to Ruscha was the opportunity to work in black and white, a mode which recalls Ruscha’s lifelong interest in cinema, as well as his deep regard for the work of Franz Kline: "I remember this notion I had in school about Franz Kline, thinking how great it was that this man only worked with black and white. I thought at some point in my life I would also work in black and white—and here it is" (Fred Fehlau, "Ed Ruscha", Flash Art, January/February 1988, pp. 70-72). Aside from its pure visual allure and power as an image, Rooster is an important investigation of the artist’s parallel interests in the seductive look of film and the importance of language within his oeuvre.
In the present work, Ruscha continues his witty play on language and text, albeit obliquely. Though Ruscha's hallmark use of text is conspicuously absent from Rooster and the preceding silhouette paintings, sound is implicitly present in the rooster's gesture and gaping beak, serving as a wry nod to Ruscha's signature practice. As noted by Dan Cameron: “In many of the works from the ‘80s, Ruscha has chosen to leave words out altogether, replacing them by silhouetted images that are themselves enigmatic enough to force the issue of language into the open and by floating white rectangles or underlines whose referents are often supplied by the painting's title. Here Ruscha is playing somewhat with both our familiarity with his work, and with the self-described parameters of this art up to this point, by creation [sic] the expectation of language and then purposefully not supplying it” (Dan Cameron, “Love in Ruins,” Edward Ruscha: Paintings, Rotterdam, 1990, pp. 15-16).