- Ed Ruscha
- signed, titled and dated 1961 on the reverse of the artist chosen frame
- oil on paper
- 10 by 12 in. 25.4 by 30.5 cm.
Asher/Faure Gallery, Los Angeles
Robert A. Rowan, Pasadena (acquired from the above in 1986)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Newport Beach, Newport Harbor Art Museum, The Last Time I Saw Ferus, March - April 1976
Pasadena, Pacific Asia Museum, 46 N. Robles: A History of the Pasadena Art Museum, November 2011 - April 2012
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Painted at the very dawn of Ed Ruscha’s career, when the artist was just twenty-three years old, the 1961 Hotel enthrallingly illuminates the budding origins of the formal and thematic currents that would come to define his output. Among the very first of Ruscha’s profoundly iconic word paintings, Hotel captures a watershed moment in art history, whilst providing an optical experience that enraptures the viewer in the textural generosity of its thickly painted expanse. Since its execution in 1961, Hotel has been treasured in two storied private collections. The painting first belonged to Sterling Holloway, the famed American actor best remembered as the original voice of several Walt Disney characters, including the eponymous title role in Winnie the Pooh and the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. Hotel was purchased in 1986 directly from Holloway’s noteworthy collection by Robert A. Rowan—the prominent California collector who was not only a founding trustee, President and driving force behind the Pasadena Art Museum, but also a founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles—and remained in the Rowan collection for decades.
Hotel’s materiality is made veritable by its densely defined surface, with the pliable sky-blue oil conveying a fleshy and corporeal dimensionality. In engineering a painterly facsimile of a word that is direct and familiar in meaning, Ruscha’s jewel-like painting on paper inverts the ordinary into the extraordinary. From within a picture plane geometrically divided into five distinct zones, Ruscha’s swift brushwork erupts into a tightly controlled chaos of sharp staccato strokes. Embedded in the center of the composition are five elongated, art deco letters spelling the titular Hotel, which are lyrically enveloped by the thick painterly squall that swoops in and around the elegant parameters of the bright orange script.
After leaving his studies at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, Ruscha spent April through October of 1961 traveling through Europe, during which time he lived in Paris for 2 months. It was in Paris that Ruscha painted this small body of oil-on paper compositions. Some of his first text paintings, this group probed the riveting dialogue between rich, voluminous brushwork and ostensibly flat typography; they are considered by Ruscha: “some of the earliest of what I consider my work after I got to be a serious artist.” Ruscha continued, “I painted some little pictures, sort of impasto oil painting on paper that I soaked in linseed oil, so that they looked semi-translucent, except where the paint is. They were paintings of words.” (Ed Ruscha cited in "Interview with Paul Karlstrom" in Alexandra Schwarz, ed. Leave Any Information at the Signal, Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages, Ed Ruscha, Cambridge, 2002, p. 124)
Ruscha remembers walking endlessly through the streets of Paris, closely observing and photographing street-signs whose arresting typography sparked his interest. Having been trained in graphic design at Chouinard, Ruscha engaged his canny eye in the language of commercial mass culture, while being jolted by the formal abandon of Abstract Expressionism and the sly irreverence of the burgeoning Pop Art. In varying typefaces instantaneously characteristic of the city, Ruscha painted within lush fields of expressionistic flourish the quotidian geographical markers that saturated his daily field of vision: the Paris “Metropolitan” sign, the “Boulangerie,” and the “Hotel.” With the Art Nouveau sophistication of its typography, Hotel is a sublime example from this rare, tremendously significant series. It is here that we witness the very genesis of Ruscha’s singular vision, rendering prose tangible through his quintessentially sumptuous painterly technique, and wittily tangling the boundaries between image and text.
In 1957, Ruscha arrived at an artistic epiphany upon seeing a reproduction of Jasper Johns’ Target with Four Faces in the magazine Print. Johns’ Pop Art literalness and Abstract sensibility aligned the two poles between which Ruscha was vacillating: the authority of gestural expressionism driving the fine art discourse of the time, with the world of commercial graphics that Ruscha studied at Chouinard. Arriving in Paris that summer, however, Ruscha saw Johns’ work firsthand in the artist’s solo show at the Galerie Rive Droite, and in the same gallery’s group show “Le Nouveau Réalisme à Paris et à New York.” The thick inflections of silvery blue pigment in Hotel emulate the impastoed encaustic of Johns’ paintings. Accentuating the flatness of the word he outlines, the exaggerated brushwork of Hotel provides a sense of depth and implied spatial presence. Moreover, the densely painted Hotel articulates the physicality of the picture plane and the direct commonplace nature of its eponymous text, but maintains an enigmatic metaphorical quality: the painting is both objectified and allusive. The luscious surface of the painting draws our notice and makes us look again with renewed curiosity and enchantment, emphasizing the metaphysical tension between what we see and what we know. By Ruscha’s intent, then, the viewer is not impeded by the need to comprehend the image; it is intrinsically legible, facilitating immediate absorption in the extraordinarily luxuriant physical and material properties of the work. With Hotel, Ruscha provides us with an image arrested squarely in the process of its own creation—all the while exhibiting evidence of a young Ruscha in the process of formulating the ideas that would ignite a revolution in artmaking.