Ed Ruscha is known best for his textual paintings in which he incorporated lyrically oblique phrases or sometimes even single, often onomatopoeic, words. Though considered a Pop artist, Ruscha is perhaps one of the movement's greatest critics, his deadpan literalism making it difficult to discern who in fact the joke is on. Ruscha derives much of his subject matter from the landscape of Southern California, the bright lights of Hollywood and the neon signage of the Valley symbolic of the city's simultaneous connotations of glamour and depravity.
With the conclusion of the 1970s, Ruscha abandoned the diverse media – blood, fruit juice, grease, and gunpowder – which he had used for most of the decade. By the 1980s, Ruscha's technique became more insinuated, and though light had always been of interest to him, he began to treat it more directly, as a subject matter in itself. Influenced by the Italian Futurists, with their interest in speed, dynamism, and the machine age, Ruscha turned from the gridded landscape of Los Angeles to more literal treatments of light, shadow, and silhouette. Though relatively abstract in comparison to prior work, these new paintings still retain an obvious urbanity. Ruscha's frequent use of diagonal beams of light suggests speed, depth, and perspective in the same ways his landscapes once did.
Here, in Very Nice Person, executed in 1988, eponymous, red, sans serif text is oriented vertically behind the noirish shadow of a paned window. With the slightly blurred blackness of the upper right-hand corner, the pairing of word and shadow create a confusing perspective, and we must resist the urge to tilt our head and reorient the painting horizontally. The skewed angle is uncanny and vaguely sinister, but as Ruscha himself admits, "Paradox and absurdity have just always been really delicious to me."
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