Typography becomes landscape in Ed Ruscha’s enigmatic work, The End #46, which evokes a distinct Hollywood nostalgia in its textual reference to bold cinematic end credits of the 1950s and 60s. The capitalised and italicised letters hover over an atmospheric, abstract field of ombré colour that transitions from a pale yellow at the base to a deep green in the upper third of the composition. Faint vertical lines and black and white markings on the surface of the work recall the imperfections of the projection systems throughout this bygone era of film, and the viewer’s mind can envision Ruscha’s flecks of dust and dirt dancing upon the screen that is his canvas as the imagined film reel rolls on.
The present work is one in an exceptional series of compositions that exemplify degraded film projections and the phraseology “The End” as both the subject of the works and as their titles. From its inception in Ruscha’s repertoire around 1991, this distinctive cinematic theme remains pivotal to the artist’s embodiment of American mass culture, wit, and drama contrived for the modern day consumer and illuminated on the big screen. Ruscha noted, “If I’m influenced by the movies, it’s from way down 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 mountain... I have a background, foreground. It’s so simple. And the backgrounds are of no particular character. They’re just meant to support the drama” (Ed Ruscha cited in: Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Cotton Puffs, Q-Tips, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha, 2004-05, p. 21).
The drama is palpable in The End #46, not only visually but typographically, for the notion of “the end” suggests a definitive finality, and reminds us that time is transient and ephemeral: all things come to an end. Ruscha’s message is augmented by the composition’s abstract background, and exemplifies his assumption that we interpret and internalise text more efficiently than we see visual images. Ruscha’s training as a graphic commercial artist after moving to Los Angeles in 1956 is evident in his unique vernacular of works influenced by the booming advertisement industry, magazines, Hollywood, and popular culture. Ruscha’s 1977 work The Back of Hollywood as well as Hollywood is a Verb, executed in 1983, both convey a similar sense of theatrics and an emphasis upon text juxtaposed against a muted, ethereal background: “With their velvety and sootiness conveying a softening of focus (and an entropic rise in noise levels), these pictures speak to a fading collective memory, or alternatively, to a spectral aspect of an increasingly homogenised and indifferent contemporary landscape” (Ralph Rugoff, 'Heavenly Noises', in: Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery, Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting, 2009, p. 23).
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