Born in Omaha Nebraska in 1937, Ruscha spent most of his childhood mornings delivering newspapers by bicycle, and in doing so continually observed the houses and landscape along his delivery route. These observations have been greatly influential to Ruscha’s work particularly in the 1960s, when he was experimenting with suburban photography. Ruscha’s intention was “just to record a street in a very faithful way” (Ed Ruscha cited in: Calvin Tomkins, ‘Ed Ruscha’s L.A.’, The New Yorker, July 2013, n.p.) and his paper route observations and subsequent photography has clearly influenced the background landscape in Averages. Equally influential to his Omaha upbringing was his move to Los Angeles, where he studied commercial art at the Chouinard Art Institute. It was here that Ruscha encountered the works of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella, whose styles undoubtedly informed Ruscha’s marriage of Pop Art iconography with a highly conceptual aesthetic approach.
A critical example of Ruscha’s photo-based conceptualism, Averages blurs the boundaries between painting and photography through its imperceptible brush strokes, sleek lines and monochrome colour palette reminiscent of black and white film: “The dark paintings came mostly from photography, although they are not photographically done or anything. I feel that they are related to the subject of photography—they are dark and strokeless, they’re painted with an airbrush” (Thomas Beller, ‘Ed Ruscha’, Splash, February 1989, n.p.). While Averages illuminates an acrylic composition, Ruscha has experimented with a wide range of mediums including paint, graphite, gunpowder, photographs, film, and commercially printed books. The artist’s photography books have been particularly significant within his oeuvre through their exposition of suburban snapshots and uncomplicated linguistic expressions. Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966), Various Small Fires and Milk (1970), and Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) stand among Ruscha’s most notable photography projects, and together offer a unique visual critique on life in modern America. Seen within this wider context of Ruscha’s repertoire, Averages fundamentally negotiates the dichotomy between image and information, and in doing so seeks to organise, categorise, and account for the world around us.
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