Hovering over the nuanced ground of creamy moiré, the words She Gets Angry At Him are articulated in a hue several shades darker than that below; the similarities in tone and saturation between the two tones invite close inspection by the viewer, necessitating intimate interaction with a painting whose text persistently evades narrative or comprehension. While the neat typeface of Ruscha’s letters invokes uniformity, upon close inspection, the edges of each form reveal softness, inconsistencies, and their unique hand-painted nature. In its innovative medium of egg yolk upon moiré support She Gets Angry At Him advances ideas about the material volume of words earlier explored by Ruscha’s paintings of text rendered in trompe l’oeil fashion as if made of bubbles or viscous liquids; here, however, Ruscha brilliantly inverts this approach, using the once fluid medium to create the hard-edged typography instead of mimicking the runny substance in form. Ruscha similarly explored quotidian materials as medium in his 1969 book Stains, a boxed portfolio of seventy-five leaves of paper stained with various substances such as blackcurrant pie filling, axle grease, mustard, Vaseline and bleach, a work now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Continuing his fascination with nontraditional media at the Venice Biennale in 1970, Ruscha covered the walls of the United States Pavilion in 360 sheets of paper silkscreened with chocolate, installed side by side in layered rows to resemble the shingles of a suburban roof. Initiated the following year, Ruscha’s Stain paintings of 1971-1977 mark the pinnacle of this creative inquiry: as in the present work, Ruscha creates these remarkable compositions by staining porous surfaces like canvas, moiré, rayon, and satin with such unconventional materials as chili sauce, salad dressing, eggwhite, cherry extract, tea and castor oil—substances eccentric in the context of painting, yet banal in their everyday use. When highlights from the series, including She Gets Angry At Him, were exhibited at the Robert Miller Gallery in 1992, Peter Schjeldahl characterized the Stain paintings’ indelible unification of image and ground as Ruscha’s sardonic remark on the “decadence of color-field [painting]” in the early 1970s, recalling the ink-stained translucency of Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler’s abstract surfaces. (Peter Schjeldahl in Exh. Cat., New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Edward Ruscha Stains 1971 to 1977, 1992, n.p.)
By rendering prose almost tangible, She Gets Angry At Him emphasizes the oft-ignored sensory dimension of language that has so enraptured Ruscha from the very beginning of his practice. The artist describes: “Words have temperatures to me. When they reach a certain point and become hot words, then they appeal to me … Sometimes I have a dream that if a word gets too hot and too appealing, it will boil apart, and I won’t be able to read or think of it. Usually I catch them before they get too hot.” (The artist quoted in Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery (and travelling), Ed Ruscha Fifty Years of Painting, 2009, pp. 46-7) The transfixing seduction of She Gets Angry At Him is due not only to the narrative mystery of the phrase but also to the viewer’s imagining of how the dried yolk bonds with the moiré—the five simple words are viscerally charged for the viewer to hear, smell and taste. An enigmatic painting that possesses a resounding power, the present work poetically commands an exhilarating sensory response.
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