- Ed Ruscha
- Goods and Services
- signed and dated 2012-2014 on the reverse
- acrylic on canvas
- 26 x 48 in. 66 x 122 cm.
Ruscha began painting rocky snow-capped mountains at the turn of the millennium, an iconographic motif that has become central to his greater body of work. Ruscha borrows the rugged, sun-drenched vistas from magazine illustrations and photographs, describing them in general terms rather than making reference to a specificity of location. For Ruscha, the mountains provide anonymous but theatrical backdrops on which to superimpose his phrases. Interested more in the idea of mountains rather than the mountains themselves, the settings become breathtaking stages for his words. The mountain landscapes amalgamate the iconography of Ruscha’s earlier Hollywood signs with his Standard gasoline stations. Adopting inspiration from the Paramount Pictures emblem of a mountain peak topped by a halo of stars, Ruscha’s landscapes recall his 1962 painting of the Twentieth-Century Fox logo, Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights, now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. While the Paramount trademark espouses the power and superiority of Hollywood in its grandiosity, it concurrently implies a stereotypical generality in both its geographic anonymity and its incessant reproduction during the opening credits of feature films. In the artist’s own words, “If I’m influenced by movies, it’s from way underneath, not just on the surface. A lot of my paintings are anonymous backdrops for the drama of words. In a way they’re words in front of the old Paramount Studios mountain… The backgrounds are of no particular character. They’re just meant to support the drama, like the ‘Hollywood’ sign being held up by sticks.” (the artist cited in Richard D. Marshall, Ed Ruscha, London, 2003, p. 239) Even the proportions of Goods and Services echo the scale of the screen, as its letterbox shape evokes a Cinemascope projection. Moreover, the subtly blurred red text that seeps from the letters’ borders into their surrounding background radiates with the same buzz as the frame of a projected film.
While the visually sumptuous rocky ridges and vivid, saturated blue sky evoke a parallel dramatic Hollywood glamour, the blue-collar generality of the image evokes Ruscha’s analogous interest in automobile culture. With these paintings, Ruscha mirrors the insignia of Peak antifreeze, a popular brand for mechanics whose packaging features blocky sans serif letters boldly set across the base of a mountain. Replacing the ornamental cursive typography of the Paramount logo with the blunt, simple typeface of Goods and Services, which is closer in style to the Peak antifreeze packaging, Ruscha accentuates the plainspoken brevity of his word choice. Here Ruscha synthesizes the allure of the silver screen with the everyday nature of car culture, whose very intersection defines the artist’s fascination with Southern California. Discussing the overlap between these two seemingly contradictory sectors of mass culture in Ruscha’s mountain paintings, Thomas Crow noted, “In the landscape of everyday American life, however, the two occupy roughly balanced and comparable territories. The auto racing circuits sustain an alternative pantheon of stars: Peak counts Indy and NASCAR driver Danica Patrick as its glamorous but still blue-collar celebrity face. The mountain motif thus occupies the nexus where a vertical axis measuring a large gap in relative cultural prestige crosses a horizontal one marking a rough comparability between movies and motor sports as objects of popular fascination.” (Thomas Crow in Robert Dean, ed., Edward Ruscha Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Vol. VI, 1998 – 2003, Göttingen, 2013, p. 6)
Boldly spelling out the economic idiom that divides human output into the transactional categories of physical goods and customer services, Goods and Services highlights a system of commodification and penetrates the commercial infrastructure in which it inevitably participates as an art object. The straightforward commonality and striking elegance of Ruscha’s candid text derives from the typeface Ruscha invented for his own purposes, which he aptly titled “Boy Scout Utility Modern.” The commercial, almost machinelike typography juxtaposed with the lavish landscape beneath it is exemplary of Ruscha’s penchant for jarring pictorial incongruities. While the painting’s literalness seems to provide a sort of uncanny clarity, Ruscha’s displacement and re-contextualization of the phrase offers an unusual association that is endlessly stimulating. With stunning clarity and graphic force, Goods and Services encapsulates the exuberance of Ruscha’s inimitable artistic vernacular and is an exemplar of the artist’s electric body of work from the past decade.