Lot 2
  • 2

Ed Ruscha

180,000 - 250,000 GBP
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  • Ed Ruscha
  • Devil
  • signed and dated 1975 on the reverse
  • blackberry juice on paper
  • 53.7 by 71.4cm.
  • 21 1/8 by 28 1/8 in.


Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Galerie Philomene Magers, Munich
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Munich, Galerie Philomene Magers, Ed Ruscha: Gunpowder and Stains, 2000, p. 25, illustrated in colour



Ed Ruscha, They Called Her Styrene, London 2000, n.p., illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality tends more towards purple in the original and fails to convey the sharp outlines of the letters. Condition: This work is in very good condition. The paper is hinged to the mount on the reverse at the top corners.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

In their elevation of individual words and letters as objects in their own right, Edward Ruscha’s paintings effectively act as an intriguing illustration of semiological tradition. A profound investigation into the possibilities of technique and medium, Devil is a superb example of Ruscha’s Stain paintings, in which his iconic lexicographical motif is delineated through unconventional materials. Ruscha reinforced the concept of ‘stain,’ with its connotations of abjection and perversion, through his chosen substances, which included bodily fluids on occasion: in the manner of Andy Warhol’s Oxidation Paintings, Ruscha’s Stain paintings can arguably be seen as a powerful reaction against traditional painting and conventional Art Historical narrative. Dating from a highly significant period of the artist’s career, when Ruscha was experimenting with a wide variety of unusual media and different grounds, Devil stands at the pinnacle of the Stain paintings in its highly accomplished composition and format. Using blackberry juice as a means to aesthetic inspiration, Ruscha reverses the traditional arrangement of his works on paper, ensuring that the brilliant white of the paper background gleams luminously through the concentrated colour of the blackberry essence, forming the boldly capitalised word of the title. Rendered inherently powerful through mythological and religious associations, Ruscha’s neutralises the connotations of ‘Devil’ somewhat through the use of paler tones, avoiding the societally commonplace connection of demonism with fiery reds in favour of angelic white, resulting in a curious inversion of artistic tradition.

Ruscha had begun moving away from the conventions of oil on canvas in 1967 with the creation of his first works using gunpowder as a medium. Intrigued by the possibilities offered by alternative materials, and seeking to transcend the limitations imposed by traditional painting, Ruscha rapidly moved on to using an astonishing variety of different liquids, even abandoning conventional painting entirely for short time in the early 1970s. Ruscha recalled this moment in his career: “There was a period when I couldn’t even use paint. I had to paint with unorthodox materials, so I used fruit and vegetable dyes instead of paint. I had to move some way, and the only way to do this was to stain the canvas rather than to put a skin on it…” (the artist, cited in Exhibition Catalogue, Washington, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution and Oxford, the Museum of Modern Art, Ed Ruscha, 2000, p. 153). As well as blackberry juice, Ruscha employed Pepto Bismol, caviar and even bodily fluids as creative means, forging a body of work that is utterly distinctive within Twentieth Century artistic practice. For his installation at the 35th Venice Biennale, Ruscha silkscreened chocolate onto 360 sheets of paper which were then placed on the walls, an exhibition choice that indicated the artist’s immense pride and excitement in the discovery of a totally innovative creative language. As well as paper and canvas, Ruscha also experimented with the use of fabrics for a base, using pioneering combinations such as egg yolk on moiré or blueberry extract on rayon crepe. Devil, created in 1975, reveals Ruscha’s control of his unconventional media by this stage: the edges of the letters are perfectly inscribed whilst the ‘application’ of the blackberry juice is impressively consistent and even. In its extraordinary appropriation of a natural substance for artistic purposes, Devil magnificently encapsulates Ruscha’s distinctive methodology and technical skill, and can be considered a truly significant work within the Stain series.