- Ed Ruscha
- signed and dated 1967
- gunpowder on paper
- 19 by 24.1cm.; 7 1/2 by 9 1/2 in.
Graystone Fine Arts, San Francisco
Private Collection, USA
Sale: Sotheby’s, London, Contemporary Art Evening Auction, 12 February 2014, Lot 31
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Communication marks a primary concern for Ruscha and has been explored through numerous mediums and guises throughout his illustrious oeuvre. In 1966 Ruscha began to investigate the aesthetics of generic words and phrases by creating fantastical trompe l’oeil pictures that radically alter the traditional typeface and meaning of the depicted word. Isolated and viewed as an object rather than a word, Cherry is absolved of any associations with succulent red fruits and instead we are invited to wallow in the word’s hypnotic, parabolic curves and its smooth soft lines. Speaking of the graphic pleasure that text gives the artist, Ruscha recalled: “the words and all that are just the tail end of an ancient tradition that began with man scribbling on a cave wall. I'm observing that these words, which sometimes represent objects and meanings, are made up of these squiggly little forms we call an alphabet. It's another way of looking at things, that's all" (Ed Ruscha quoted in: Rachel Cooke, 'There's room for saying things in bright shiny colours’, The Guardian, September 2010, online resource).
To create the mesmeric surface of Cherry, Ruscha did away with the unwieldly medium of graphite in favour of something altogether more manageable and easily correctable: gunpowder. Intrigued by the possibilities offered by alternative materials, and seeking to transcend the limitations imposed by traditional painting, in the late 60s Ruscha experimented with a whole host of materials ranging from egg yolk, turpentine, beer to salad dressing and gunpowder. Gunpowder was to prove the most successful of these unusual mediums. It was initially unearthed as a possible material when the artist soaked gunpowder pellets in water to remove their salts, leaving behind a warm charcoal-like mist of pigment. In the present work, Ruscha has rubbed this fine dry powder onto rag paper with a cotton bud in a fastidious manner, applying layer upon layer to achieve the wonderfully rich and creamy depth of black that is visible in the top left hand corner. The intriguing nuances of shade that this medium permitted is perhaps best exercised in the virtuoso shading of the letters, creating a word that appears to have been sculpted by light itself. Perfectly summating the importance of this extraordinary artistic innovation, Margit Rowell concludes: “these gunpowder drawings are quintessential examples of Ruscha’s singular manner of seeing as it had matured through the late 1960s… Ruscha’s translation of an abstract idea into a material but imaginary image through a controlled, invisible execution endows these works with a mysterious, uncanny atmosphere” (Margit Rowell, ‘Cotton Puffs, Q-Tips Smoke and Mirrors’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, (and travelling), Cotton Puffs, Q-Tips, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha, 2004-05, p. 17). Utterly pioneering and endlessly engaging, Cherry is one of Ruscha’s finest gunpowder drawings.