The bold graphics of this painting proclaim the often ignored sensory dimension of language that enraptures Ruscha. He uses words in his paintings as aesthetic forms as much as significant symbols and for mood as much as for meaning. In the artist’s own words: 'I love language. Words have temperatures to me' (quoted in Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Paintings (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London, 2009, pp. 46-47). In this respect, he can be seen to presage such artists as Christopher Wool who relished the abstract qualities of typography in his similarly impactful letter paintings. However, Ruscha’s 1960s practice is better aligned with the Pop movement that was dominating the contemporaneous avant-garde discourse. He showed at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles at the same time as Andy Warhol, his works are created with high-key super-saturated palettes that seem typically Pop, and in content they are filled with the vernacular of the American everyman. SCREAM sits perfectly alongside the other emphatic ejaculations and exhortations that Ruscha was deploying in his works of the early 1960s like HONK, BOSS, and JELLY. These words feel quotidian, accessible, and impactful; typical of an art movement that aimed to take art out of the realms of high-minded intellectualism and into the immediacy of the everyday.
Ed Ruscha is also a quintessentially Californian artist whose œuvre is suffused with the influence of American cinema. The artistic precedent of the silver screen informs so much of his best known work, from the brilliant sunset-like backdrops of some of his later text paintings, to the extraordinary panoramic angle that he used to depict the gas stations of the west coast in the early 1960s. In the present work, this influence is palpable. The manner in which Ruscha punctures the word with spotlight-like lines from the left hand side is entirely redolent of the way that the artist constructed the Twentieth Century Fox logo for his famous 1962 painting Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights. Even the word itself seems to carry the implication of cinema, for its assonance with ‘screen’, and for its implicit association with the horror genre that was booming in contemporaneous culture.
Blue Scream stands out among the critical paper works of the early 1960s that were fundamental contributions to the Pop Art movement and laid the foundation for the visual language that established Ruscha as one of the most influential artists of his generation. Executed with the incredible energy and graphic force that typify this electric œuvre, Blue Scream should be considered a distillation of the genius of Ruscha’s unique aesthetic idiom, melding his own creative vision with the aesthetics of the silver screen, to create a unique work of unbridled impact.
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