Lot 73
  • 73

Ed Ruscha

350,000 - 450,000 USD
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  • Ed Ruscha
  • Broken Pencil 
  • signed and dated 1963
  • oil on paper 
  • 12 3/8 by 11 5/8 in. 31.4 by 29.5 cm.


Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner


London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Ed Ruscha: New Paintings and a Retrospective of Works on Paper, June - July 1998, p. 26, illustrated in color


Lisa Turvey, Ed., Edward Ruscha, Catalogue Raisonné of the Works on Paper, Volume One: 1956-1975, New York 2014, cat. no. D1963.14, p. 114, illustrated in color


This work is in excellent condition overall. The sheet is hinged on the reverse at all four corners to the backing board. Upon close inspection there is a very slight undulation to the sheet consistent with the artist's choice of medium. Also upon close inspection there is evidence of some light dust accumulation and a few unobtrusive, scattered pinpoint media accretions along the surface. There is some darkening to the margins of the sheet resulting from the artist’s use of linseed oil. There is a very soft crease to the sheet at the upper right corner and an unobtrusive pinpoint discoloration in the extreme upper edge, roughly 3 inches from the right side. Under Ultraviolet light inspection there is no evidence of restoration. Framed under Museum Plexiglas.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Although the Pop Art movement is most often associated as being rooted in New York, two of the earliest and most significant Pop exhibitions took place in California in 1962: Andy Warhol’s 1962 show at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles of Campbell’s Soup Cans and the first museum survey of American Pop, New Paintings of Common Objects, held at the Pasadena Art Museum.  Among the eight artists included in the Pasadena exhibition was 25-year-old Edward Ruscha.  The year following this landmark exhibition, Ruscha had his first one-man show.  Held at the Ferus Gallery, this show featured several of the artist’s career defining single-word paintings, including Smash, Oof, Fisk, Annie, Flash, and L.A. Times. Also included in the exhibition were the ambitious large-scale paintings, such as Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights, an eleven-foot-wide canvas featuring the Twentieth Century Fox logo, and the artist’s most cherished work, Noise, Pencil, Broken Pencil, Cheap Western.  Written in Ruscha’s studio notebook on April 22, 1963 while working on Noise..., the artist declared “This is by far the most exciting painting I have done to date—as I thought, it seems to have invalidated all my other paintings.” (Pat Poncy, Ed., Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume One: 1958-1970, New York 2003, p. 90)  The artist’s pride in this work cannot be over-emphasized.  In 1984, over twenty years later he stated: “in completing the painting I recall being completely awestruck and overwhelmed.” (Ruscha, letter to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, October 22, 1984, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts curatorial files)  And later in 2005 he affirms, "There's a painting that I consider my best one - Noise, Pencil, Broken Pencil, Cheap Western, from 1963." Presently in the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, the artist continues, “If I had a wish list, that would be at the top. It embodies the esthetics of all my work." (Ed Ruscha in Susan Emerling, “Looking After Their Own,” ARTnews, May 1, 2005)

Noise, Pencil, Broken Pencil, Cheap Western, painted in 1963, is an eclectic and unusual juxtaposition of text and photo-realistically rendered objects set against an expansive deep indigo background, conveying both action and a semiotic representation of sound. Hovering horizontally at the center of the dominating, vast composition, pointing outward and abutted against the extreme left and right edges are representations of two life-sized, yellow No. 2 pencils, the left one freshly sharpened and intact and the right one snapped into two parts.

In preparation for Noise, Pencil, Broken Pencil, Cheap Western the artist produced the present work, Broken Pencil (1963), along with two other paintings on paper of the same scale and subject, the diptych Pencil, Broken Pencil (1963). A fully realized and extraordinarily executed painting in itself, the materiality of the subject of Broken Pencil, precisely centered within the picture plane and meticulously reproduced in its true scale, is made veritable through the artist’s use of generous, still-life spotlighting, accentuating the contours of the object.  The striking contrast of the canary yellow object and the uniform, rich ultramarine background provides a sense of depth and implied spatial presence. “Many of Ruscha’s drawings implicitly pose the question of the difference between the illusion of a thing and a word.” (Daniel Baird, “Ed Ruscha,” Brooklyn Rail, July 1, 2004) This is especially apparent with Broken Pencil, in which “...the pencil, a classic object on which to act out writerly frustration, precedes but also somehow contains the word ‘pencil.’ The drawing [is], however, often more materially concrete and emotionally potent than the closely related paintings executed at the same time....Noise, Pencil, Broken Pencil, Cheap Western works by its elliptical and even surreal juxtapositions. In the drawings, by contrast, both words and objects remain themselves, functional but stripped of overt associations.” (Ibid.)

The pencil, an artist’s most basic instrument, is an important recurring object appearing within the imagery of Ruscha’s works at this early stage in his career, present in several of the drawings and canvases made between 1963 and 1971. Not only was this pencil depicted twice within the aforementioned painting Noise, Pencil, Broken Pencil, Cheap Western, but also the invitation to the 1963 exhibition prominently features a photorealistic rendering of a single sharpened pencil among the text.  Other works incorporating a pencil within the composition include Talk About Space (1963), Bull, Pencil (1964) and many of the ‘birds, fish and offspring’ paintings of the mid-1960s. Here the artist is pointing “explicitly, and often reflexively, to the means and methods of drawing…This moment witnessed, in short, a mounting self-referentiality in Ruscha’s works on paper, one that attended what might be interpreted as an increasing awareness of his own creative persona.” (Lisa Turvey, Ed., Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Works on Paper, Volume One: 1956-1976, New York 2014, p. 20)  In viewing the object as the artist making reference to himself, Broken Pencil, is shown split and splintered, revealing a deeper, emotional interpretation to the very simple composition and perhaps signifies a moment of despair, anger or doubt for Ruscha. 

Broken Pencil stands out among the critical oil on paper studies of the early 1960s linked to the realized paintings that were fundamental contributions to the Pop Art movement and laid the foundation for the visual language that both established and solidified Ruscha as one of the most influential artists of his generation.  These works offer important insight into Ruscha’s working process and the refined and “finished quality of many of them bears out Ruscha’s claim that his art is entirely premeditated.” (Ibid, p. 17)  In Broken Pencil, the implied noise associated with the shattering of the object provides us with a striking visual equivalent of sound—all the while exhibiting evidence of a young Ruscha in the process of formulating the ideas that would ignite a revolution in artmaking.