In Whose Needs, Ruscha placed a titular phrase that is seemingly floating over a blurred landscape, whilst the image of a factory building is suggested by two smoky chimneys fuming into the red sunset. Even though the building remains anonymous, this present work oozes Los Angeles. The panoramic landscape and vivid colours remind the viewer of classic western movies, whilst the artist’s self-designed font ‘Boy Scout Utility Modern’ instantly recalls the lettering of the famous Hollywood sign. By superimposing quotations over landscapes, Ruscha adopts the language of cinema evoking film titles being projected on movie screens. His reference to the cinematic experience however goes beyond the visual analogies of his drawings. “If I’m influenced by movies it’s from way down underneath, not just on the surface. A lot of my paintings are synonymous backdrops for the drama of words… I have 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., Whitney Museum of American Art, Cotton Puffs, Q–Tips, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawing of Ed Ruscha, New York 2004, p. 21). In the present work, the white lettered words become almost illegible, evoking a dreamlike feeling. The word ‘Who’ stands out to the viewer hovering over the darker coloured chimneys, recalling a sense of memory, questioning the viewer’s identity.
The 1980s represent a turning point in Ruscha’s artistic practice, evolving from his previous flat colour fields to depicting sunrises, sunsets and city landscapes that are brimming with illusionistic depth. Whose Needs is representative of this new use of photorealistic backgrounds juxtaposed with all-caps white lettering in his newly invented font. Rejecting the path of being purely a painter for many years, Ruscha in these series of works was able to liberate himself and to make use of his remarkable activity in films, graphic design, books and prints.
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