- Ed Ruscha
- She Gets Angry at Him
- egg yolk on moiré
- 36 x 40 inches
Galerie Rolf Ricke, Cologne
Dr. Heinz Hunstein, Kassel
Christie's, New York, November 4, 1987, Lot 257
Alfred Ordover, New York
Anne Plumb Gallery, New York
James Corcoran Gallery, Santa Monica, and Ed Ruscha
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Galerie Philomene Magers, Munich
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2000
New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Edward Ruscha: Stains 1971 to 1975, May - June 1992, cat. no. 23, illustrated in color
Munich, Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers Galerie, Ed Ruscha: Gunpowder and Stains, May - June 2000, p. 57, illustrated in color
Although he was prominently included in the first museum exhibition of American Pop art, New Painting of Common Objects, organized in 1962 by Walter Hopps for the Pasadena Art Museum, Ruscha perennially resisted categorization, experimenting in a cornucopia of media and conceptual endeavors. Notably, She Gets Angry at Him emerges from a critical period in the development of Ruscha's practice, marking the transformative moment at which the artist began to shift away from his formerly monosyllabic vernacular toward a distinctly heightened linguistic complexity. Honing his autographic deadpan lyricism, the years 1973-1975 are considered the golden age for Ruscha’s most accomplished exploration of language and its visual resonance when manipulated, modified and expressed through pictorial means. In the present work, the egg yolk sinks into the moiré fabric, allowing the text to penetrate the ground beneath it and exist within its woven construction, rather than sitting atop the surface as oil or acrylic on canvas would. In emphasizing the physical weight of the letters’ shapes and color through painting them in a ready-made organic material familiar to our everyday world, Ruscha transports the enigmatic phrase out of language and purely into the visual realm. The artist here successfully achieves his ultimate goal: rendering prose tangible.
The present work advances ideas about the material volume of words earlier explored by Ruscha’s paintings of text rendered in trompe l’oeil fashion as if made of bubbles or viscous liquids; here, Ruscha brilliantly inverts this approach, using the once fluid yolk to create the hard-edged typography instead of mimicking the runny substance in form. The present work is a remarkable example of Ruscha’s Stains, a series of paintings that the artist produced between 1971 and 1977 by staining porous surfaces like canvas, moiré, rayon, and satin with such unconventional materials as chili sauce, salad dressing, egg yolk, cherry extract, tea and castor oil—substances eccentric in the context of painting, yet banal in their everyday use. When highlights from the series, including She Gets Angry at Him, were exhibited at the Robert Miller Gallery in 1992, Peter Schjeldahl characterized the Stain paintings’ indelible unification of image and ground as Ruscha’s sardonic remark on the “decadence of color-field [painting]” in the early 1970s, recalling the ink-stained translucency of Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler’s abstract surfaces (Peter Schjeldahl in Exh. Cat., New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Edward Ruscha Stains 1971 to 1977, 1992, n.p.). In his advocacy of color field painting, the canonical critic Clement Greenberg redefined our impression of a stain, transforming its connotation of a soiled mishap into the gossamer translucency of paint penetrated within the fibers of its surface.
The Stains followed a two-year hiatus from 1969 to 1971 when Ruscha abruptly ceased painting, stating in 1971, “I can’t bring myself to put paint on canvas. I find no message there anymore.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., Washington, D. C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Ed Ruscha, 2000, p. 152) It was in 1969 that he made Stains, a boxed portfolio of seventy-five leaves of paper stained with various substances such as blackcurrant pie filling, axle grease, mustard, Vaseline and bleach, a work now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. At the Venice Biennale in 1970, continuing his fascination with untraditional media, Ruscha covered the walls of the United States Pavilion in 360 sheets of paper silkscreened with chocolate, installed side by side in layered rows to resemble the shingles of a suburban roof. Experimenting with materials in the vein of the alchemist Sigmar Polke, whose later abstract paintings employ arsenic, uranium, lavender oil and meteor dust as materials, and Ruscha’s Pop art peer and fellow Ferus alumnus Andy Warhol’s oxidation paintings of urine on copper-painted canvases, Ruscha’s use of perishable foodstuffs adventurously embodies the artist’s career-long immersion in the decay, decline and impermanence of urban life. On a purely material dimension, She Gets Angry at Him sensationally captures the artist’s overarching interest in ephemerality, aging and deterioration.
The oft-ignored sensory dimension of language enraptures Ruscha. He stated, “Words have temperatures to me. When they reach a certain point and become hot words, then they appeal to me … Sometimes I have a dream that if a word gets too hot and too appealing, it will boil apart, and I won’t be able to read or think of it. Usually I catch them before they get too hot.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery (and travelling), Ed Ruscha Fifty Years of Painting, 2009, pp. 46-7) We can attribute the transfixing seduction of She Gets Angry at Him partly to the tantalizing narrative mystery of the phrase, but also to our imagining of how the dried yolk bonds with the moiré—the five simple words are viscerally charged for the viewer to hear, smell and taste, titillating a tactile polarity of attraction and repulsion. An enigmatic painting that possesses a resounding power, the present work poetically commands an exhilaratingly sensory response.