WOW! – Work of the Week – Frank Stella – Jasper’s Dilemma



Frank Stella
Jasper’s Dilemma, from Jasper’s Dilemma
1973
Offset Lithograph
16 x 22 in.
Edition of 100
Pencil signed and numbered



About the work:

Frank Stella defiantly departed from Abstract Expressionism through a complete restructuring of the idea of painting. He revolutionized the field and inspired changes still felt today.

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Stella’s Jasper’s Dilemma, an homage to fellow artist Jasper Johns who he admired greatly.

Jasper’s Dilemma is formed of two “mitered” mazes as Stella called them. Mitered joints are joints that are beveled, usually at a 45 degree angle to form a corner, such as standard picture frame edges. Both mazes seem identical in structure, divided into 4 triangles whose points don’t quite meet at the center, however, the colored maze spirals outward in a counter-clockwise path from the center and the black, while the black and white maze follows a clockwise route.

Stella eliminated subjectivity in his work through using arbitrary mathematical measurements, forcing the viewer to think about the relationship between color and form. Johns on the other hand, created compositions of recognizable items, closing the gap between the object and its representation, transforming an object into art.

Johns would often create a work in color, then reexamine it in shades of grey. This “dilemma” is posed in Stella’s tributary work (which holds both the representation in color and in grey), between the “seduction of the spectrum against the rigors of the grey scale.” The title of this work and its color scheme make explicit reference to Johns’s statement that the more he worked in color, the more he saw gray.

For Johns, the use of grey was a means to think about color through its absence. Johns initially used grey tones as a statement of skepticism or anticipation, but it evolved into a profound examination of the meaning of color itself. Grey was the most appropriate hue with which to present “conceptual” art since it is less stimulating, allowing for more space for ideas.

In removing color, the artists refocus the viewer’s attention to consider the means of representation, over what is represented and, to consider how does something come to have meaning, rather than what does it mean.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Jeff Koons – Balloon Animals



Jeff Koons
Balloon Animals – Swan, Monkey & Rabbit
2017
Porcelain with metallic finish
Dimensions vary, see below
Edition of 999
Signed and numbered on bottom of each piece
$100,000 for the set of 3
Swan 8 1/4 x 9 1/2 x 6 3/8 in.
Monkey 9 7/8 x 15 3/8 x 8 1/4 in.
Rabbit 11 1/2 x 8 1/4 x 5 1/2 in.


About the work:

Jeff Koons has cemented his position as the heir of the Pop Art movement by creating works that play with banal and familiar objects from our everyday lives through industrial methods. Koons’ reproductions of balloon animals are amongst some of his most recognizable pieces. The works reflect an element of childhood play and disposable culture but in an art-form meant to last.

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Koons’ set of three porcelain, metallic finished Balloon Animals – the Swan, the Bunny and the Monkey.

Koons’ ballon animals tap into our memories and our emotions, in the eerily familiar and trustworhty form of a party favor. They are a symbol of our youth and they toy with our inner child’s fascination with a structure that is temporary. The emotional reaction that many of us have to an object that reminds us so vividly of the magic and charm of childhood is palpable, yet these are objects that one would never think of as a work of art.

Like his idol Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons has mastered the practice of taking a concept or idea and transforming it. Koons’ works are conceptual, and while they may prove challenging to grasp, they have definite aesthetic qualities and are subjected to intense attention to detail.

The balloon animals are intrinsically optimistic works. They remind the viewer of a birthday party or a clown, but to the artist they are also representative of life. As a viewer, we obviously observe the outermost elements of a work, yet, there is an interior to the work, a void full of air. To Koons, the interior of the piece is important, because it is just like the inflatable balloon animals of our youth, neither can exist without the air forming the interior element. It also symbolizes us individually, since as living beings we inhale air. To Koons, the act of inhaling air is life.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Andy Warhol – Dollar Sign FS II.278



Andy Warhol
Dollar Sign FS II.278
1982
Screenprint on Lenox Museum Board
19 5/8 x 15 5/8 in.
Edition of 60 unique works
Pencil signed and numbered


About the work:

Power, Greed, Wealth, Success, Strength, Capitalism, Consumerism, Materialism; what symbol represents all these better than the US $ (Dollar Sign)?

“It’s all about the Benjamins!!!”

This weeks Work Of the Week (WOW!) is Andy Warhol’s Dollar Sign ($), FS II 278. When it comes to a symbol of a world currency, none is more iconic the the US $ (Dollar Sign). No one thinks of the British Pound, the Euro, or the Yen. It is the US Dollar, and the dollar sign $, that is known and desired all over the world.

Art is always a extension and representation of the times. Andy Warhol began creating money imagery as early as the 1950’s. After WWII, America had solidified her position, strength, and power in the world. Here at home, America was entering the most financially sound period in her short history. Americans were experiencing a modern industrial revolution in manufacturing, home buying was at the highest level in history, television was new and advertisements were pitching the latest and greatest to a ripe audience, who for the first time had money to buy, and the growing middle class was the strongest it has ever been. American was flying high, and money was flowing.

The pop artists saw this, and their art reflected exactly what was going on. Jasper Johns’ American flag was an artistic symbol of patriotism. Robert Rauschenberg’s photo-journalistic style artistically documented the times, and Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol used their advertising backgrounds to create art that represented the influx of money, capitalism, consumerism that the American culture was experiencing at the time.

Yet it is timeless, just as it rang true over 50 years ago, it holds true today. Warhol’s Dollar Sign ($), is not just a cool image that was meant to hang behind the desk of some important CEO. It’s a statement. It’s an abstract statement, or concept if you will, on what money represents, and how this tiny piece of paper rules the world, (for better or for worse). Abstract in the sense that Warhol does not come right out and list the positives and negatives of money, he leaves that up to the viewer to form his or her own interpretations. To some who see the genius of Warhol it may seem deeper that what is looks like on the surface, and to some it may seem simple or obvious. But after all, Warhol’s take on Pop Art is in many ways, overstating the obvious.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Roy Lichtenstein – Nude, from Brushstroke Figures



Roy Lichtenstein
Nude, from Brushstroke Figures
1989
Lithograph, Waxtype, Woodcut and Screenprint
56 1/4 x 32 1/2 in.
Edition of 60
Pencil signed, dated and numbered



About the work:

The Nude and the Brushstroke are two classic and timeless pillars of Art History. The Nude figure has been used throughout time in art to express the ideals of the female and male bodies. The theme might evoke Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus or Michelangelo’s David, masterpieces for their representation of anatomical proportions as well as the technical skill required to produce them. The Brushstroke can be deemed the most basic and central element in two-dimensional art, yet it is hardly the first technique that comes to mind when considering Pop Art.

Roy Lichtenstein, one of Pop Art greats, strove to leave as little a trace of his hand in his work. His works carry a distinctive, mechanical style derived from mass printing, leading to his name becoming synonymous with popular comic-book imagery, Ben-Day dots and a primary color palette. Ironically, Lichtenstein began his career exploring abstract expressionism, a movement he would revisit at great length.

Abstract expressionism employed the brushstroke as a vehicle to communicate feelings with spontaneous motion. Lichtenstein, who always approached his art-making with humor, turned the spontaneous brushstroke on its head.

In 1989, the artist released his Brushstroke Figures series, from which this week’s Work of the Week! (WOW!) Nude stems.

Nude, from Brushstroke Figures is a playful balance between Abstract Expressionism and Lichtenstein’s brand of Pop, making the techniques used to be the focal point of the work over the subject. The center piece of Nude is composed of brushstroke-like elements, depicted as though created with a brush. These strokes, however, are the complete opposite of the abstract expressionist stroke. They are a methodically planned artistic operation, a time-consuming task made to appear as if produced in an instant. The painterly-like strokes lend to the piece a dense abstract complexity, which emphasizes the brushstroke over the subject it is used to depict.

The work also carries the unmistakable trademark characteristics of a Lichtenstein: Ben-Day dots and slanted, alternating white and red lines, in addition to Lichtenstein’s interpretation of the brushstroke, simulated in a uniform color and flat finish.

Lichtenstein takes away from the subject matter through the painterly brushstrokes, but simultaneously brings our attention back to it through his use of the slanted red and white lines as a background. This feature has an optical effect of making the subject appear as though it is floating in a three-dimensional space, entirely detached from from its setting. Every element of this work is calculated and placed.

Lichtenstein was a was very innovative printmaker, and never shied away from experimenting. Nude, from Brushstroke Figures makes use of a variety of printing methods, lithography, woodcut, screenprinting, and waxtype, a process similar to screenprinting, where beeswax is used, rather than traditional printers ink. Lichtenstein experimented with materials to create more depth and interest, and in this case, asks the viewer to reconsider their preconceived notion of the nude.

WOW! – Work of the Week – James Rosenquist – 1, 2, 3 Outside



James Rosenquist
1, 2, 3 Outside
1971
6 color lithograph with embossing and debossing
40 1/2 x 31 in.
Edition of 70
Pencil signed, dated, titled and numbered


About the work:

“Popular culture isn’t a freeze-frame; it is images zapping by in rapid-fire succession, which is why collage is such an effective way of representing contemporary life. The blur between images creates a kind of motion in the mind.”

James Rosenquist is best known for his colossal collage paintings of enigmatically juxtaposed fragmentary images. These images, brought together and enlarged overwhelm the viewer,  through their sheer scale which makes them difficult to discern at first glance. They are mostly fragments of enlarged, photo-realistic images done in the advertising style of the emergence of consumer culture in America during the 1960’s. This is no accident, Rosenquist started out his career as a billboard painter, and was among this first of the classic pop-artists to directly address the persuasive powers of advertising, highlighting the omnipresence of ads.

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Rosenquist’s 1, 2, 3 Outside

1, 2, 3 Outside was originally painted in 1963 in a manner that denies each of the three panels immediate recognition due to the scale of each fragmented image, so enlarged that they are each removed from their original context. This is where Rosenquist’s fascination with subliminal persuasion through advertising becomes evident. Each image is artistically packaged based on defining characteristics and incorporates as much visual imagery as possible onto the picture plane. Together, however, they form a bombardment of information without any kind of visual relief.

The imagery is on such a monumental scale that it gives the impression that it is coming straight at the viewer and suggests a strong socio-economic commentary, implying that the work itself is a starting point for deeper reflection. “I wanted the space to be more important than the imagery,” James Rosenquist said. “I wanted to use images as tools.”

Rosenquist used generic imagery, no brand names, and created a new kind of picture. He described the effect: “People can remember their childhood, but events from four or five years ago are in a never-never land. That was the imagery I was concerned with—things that were a little bit familiar but not things you feel nostalgic about. Hot dogs and typewriters—generic things people sort of recognize.” Rosenquist reminds us to observe more intently and become more self-reflective, taking our time with the experience of looking.

As such, 1, 2, 3 Outside exemplifies Rosenquist’s contribution to Pop art: grand scale, fragmented composition that encompass an amalgamation of consumer imagery and evokes visual memory flashes of consciousness.

“WOW! – Work of the Week – Paul Jenkins – Celestial Wink



Paul Jenkins

Celestial Wink

c. 1970

Watercolor

14 5/8 x 22 1/2 in.

Signed

About the work:

As a member of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Paul Jenkins was renowned for his technique of controlled paint pouring and use of translucent colors. He came of age during the heyday of the New York School and was deeply influenced by his interest in Eastern religions and philosophy, the writings of Carl Gustav Jung, and Goethe’s color theories.

These influences, prompted him to turn toward inward reflection and mysticism, which dominated both his aesthetic and personal life. The artist had studios and homes in New York City and in France (both Paris and St Paul de Vence), in which he displayed a vast collection of decorative items that he gathered for their mystical powers.

This mysticism translated to his work through billowy and undulating forms of color resulting in psychedelic-looking landscapes or cosmic realms, what Stuart Preston, of The New York Times, described as “Abstract Expressionist rococo.” Jenkins preferred to describe himself as an “abstract phenomenist.”

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Celestial Wink.

Though his approach to paint application may seem driven by chance, and could be compared to the ancient craft of marbling – making colored paper in a tank in which liquid paints have been poured in the water – his methods were in fact very controlled. His favorite tool was an elegant ivory knife, which he used to guide the flow of paint. Of his unorthodox technique he said: “The ivory knife is an essential tool in this because it does not gouge the canvas, it allows me to guide the paint.”

Celestial Wink is a beautiful example of Jenkins’ work in watercolor. The work features every color in the rainbow with a strong balance of motion and blending. His colors seem to be moving, misty or fully liquid, billowing, surging, flaring, breaking up, capturing the semblance of shifts in direction. The composition as a whole confirms that the paint application was not left up to chance. There is a perfect amount of negative space (the white background), at angles that follow the strokes of color, allowing the work to flow harmoniously.

Jenkins also had a process when finding titles for his creations. “I try to find the identity word that will secure an attitude toward a painting rather than provoke a visual object that the eye will seek out.” The title Celestial Wink speaks to this attitude, just like the occurrence of a rainbow, only visible through reflection of water droplets directly opposite the sun, it is an ephemeral phenomenon, only possible under certain conditions. The title also echoes back to Jenkins’ interest in mysticism and suggests a surrender to the spiritual or outer-worldly. Celestial Wink does seem like a force of nature.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Keith Haring – Fertility #2



Keith Haring
Fertility #2
1983
Silkscreen
42 x 50 in.
Edition of 100
Pencil signed, dated and numbered



Throughout his work, Keith Haring was never afraid to confront the socio-political challenges of his time. He was an outspoken and ardent activist against racism, homophobia, the apartheid in South Africa and AIDS.

Despite that Haring addressed difficult topics in his work, he always approached these subjects with high energy and optimism. He was heavily influenced by graffiti writers and street art in New York City, and created what would become his signature style, composed of the heavy use of line drawing, vivid colors, and simplified humanoid and geometric forms. These glyphs that could be read, like an urban, tribal language were accessible to all, and easy to take in by a wide audience.

“Art is something that liberates the soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further.”

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Keith Haring’s Fertility #2.

Fertility #2 is the second work in the Fertility Suite of 5 works. Created in day-glow pigments, the piece is exceptionally bright, which conveys a warm and happy message, and evokes the New York club scene that Keith Haring was a part of.

It is a work that captures both the mysteries of ancient civilization with the representation of the pyramid, but also the imagination of extra-terrestrial civilizations through the flying saucers. The pyramid was a common theme in Haring’s work, simultaneously referring to antiquity and symbolizing eternity. It is also connected to the hieroglyphic language that Haring employs throughout his body of work, and the notion that images are a universal language. The UFO on the other hand represents a cosmic energy and suggests supernatural forces or people who were situated outside of social norms. They always symbolize positive energy and empowerment.

Lines and circles have a darker connotation in Haring’s work, they refer to the lesions of HIV and AIDS victims. These threats are surrounding a pregnant woman who is in distress, agitating her arms, trying to get attention.   

Combined, what does all this imagery stand for?

In the 1980’s there was a high prevalence of HIV infection among pregnant women in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was a terrible epidemic that devastated vast regions. The 1980’s were characterized by an insufficient response (both in the US and abroad) by government leaders in response to the AIDS epidemic. Ronald Reagan, the US president at the time, did not address the issue until over 21,000 Americans had already perished from the virus. Haring was a staunch activist and leader in promoting awareness about the virus and Fertility #2 is a centerpiece in his fight in relation to the transmission of the virus from mother to child, a particularly common problem in southern Africa.

The lesions, or dashes and circles have infected all the land in his depiction of the African landscape, and the pregnant mother is terrified for her unborn child. Keith Haring, loved the hope and innocence of children inspired. To him, they represented a better humanity: color-blind, unprejudiced and caring, uncorrupted by greed and hatred towards others. This work represents the saving of children and human kind from the evils of illness and inactive leadership.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Alex Katz – Wedding Dress



Alex Katz
Wedding Dress
1993
Etching Aquatint
52 x 22 in.
Edition of 50
Pencil signed and numbered


About the work:
Alex Katz’s body of work could be considered as a family photo album. Throughout his career, he has captured many moments depicting his friends and family, even his family dog, Sunny. As with any family photo album, some moments are ordinary and every day, but some are important life milestones.
This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Wedding Dress.
Wedding Dress is a work from 1993, and is one of the first portraits Alex Katz created of his daughter in law, Vivien. What is particularly interesting about this piece is his subject’s stance. There is an innocence in her body language, and an unawareness that she is being observed.
This is an atypical portrait. It is not posed or scripted. Alex Katz has captured a candid moment of his daughter is law’s wedding in a warm manner that leaves the viewer space to interpret the subject’s posture and determine her thoughts and emotions at the time.
The fact that Vivien is holding her hands behind her back is very significant. Initially, it is easy to associate the pose with shyness, especially since she is not looking upright. However, the act of holding her hands behind her back automatically exposes the full front of her body, indicating that her guard is down. She is displaying an ease and comfort in her surroundings. The serene feeling of her posture is accentuated by her head bowed slightly downwards and her eyes seemingly closed. That her eyes seem closed further attests to her comfort, she can retreat from the world to have a moment to herself, on her wedding day, a day that is traditionally centered on the bride.
Alex Katz captures the unique moment perfectly.
Through the many portraits that Alex Katz has created of Vivien, it is obvious that the pair have a very close relationship and that she is an integral part of the family. Many artists insert their life into their works, but none is as transparent as Katz, he truly let’s us in to be a part of his family’s most intimate moments.

 

WOW! – Work of the Week – Andy Warhol – Marilyn Monroe FS II.29



Andy Warhol
Marilyn Monroe FS II.29
1967
Screenprint on Wove paper
36 x 36 in.
Edition of 250
Pencil signed and stamp-numbered on verso


About the work:
Have you ever wondered why after more than 55 years of the death of Marilyn Monroe, she still remains the top iconic sex symbol in the world?
Monroe’s life and death are are so widely known, and read like a Shakespearean tragedy. Wanting so badly to become famous, Norma Jean Mortenson spent most of her childhood in foster homes and orphanages before she became a pin up model, and eventually the one of the biggest Hollywood movie stars to date. But this fame came at a cost. Billed by Hollywood as a “Blonde Bombshell”, by 1953 Monroe emerged as a major sex symbol and one of Hollywood’s most bankable performers.
The 1953 film noir Niagara put Marilyn on the map as a sex symbol, and was the start of the Marilyn Monroe that we know today. By now, Monroe and her make-up artist had developed the make-up look that became associated with her: dark arched brows, pale skin, “glistening” red lips and a beauty mark.
Niagara was one of the most overtly sexual films of Monroe’s career, and it included scenes in which her body was covered only by a sheet or a towel, considered shocking by contemporary audiences. Its most famous scene is a 30-second long shot behind Monroe where she is seen walking with her hips swaying, which was heavily used in the film’s marketing.
When Niagara was released in 1953, women’s clubs protested that the film was immoral, but the movie proved popular with audiences and grossed $6 million at the box office. This film, Niagara made Monroe a sex symbol and established her “look”.
This weeks Work of the Week! WOW! is Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe FS II.29
Produced in 1967, five years after Monroe’s death, it is not by coincidence that the photo of Marilyn that Warhol selected for what is to be one of his most famous and iconic works of art was a publicity shot from the 1953 film Niagara.


Publicity photo from 1953 film Niagara

Many people do not fully understand the importance of Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe. Early works by Warhol were social and political commentaries on what was going in America at the time.
Warhol’s Marilyn to one who understands the work is genius, to those who do not, they ask what is the big deal? Warhol just reproduce a photo of Marilyn, and it is considered art?
Well for starters consider this: Andy Warhol immortalized Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn Monroe DID NOT immortalize Marilyn Monroe.
The most famous image of Marilyn Monroe is Warhol’s image. It has been reproduced millions of times, on countless products such as tote bags, coffee mugs, t-shirts, notebooks etc. This image is how younger generations identify Marilyn Monroe by. Artist’s of today, have appropriated Warhol’s Marilyn, after more than 55 years of her death.
So why is this work so important, and a work of genius? How come it has withstood the test of time?
In order to learn what this work is, we must first realize what this work is not. Warhol’s Marilyn is NOT just a portrait of a beautiful sexy celebrity.
Warhol’s Marilyn is a documentary, and a commentary on the life of one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, the culture of Hollywood, the power of Hollywood and film, and the culture of America at this time
“Being a sex symbol is a heavy load to carry, especially when one is tired, hurt and bewildered.”
Marilyn Monroe
Against Monroe’s wishes and demands over the years to be taken as a more serious actress, and wanting to be seen as more than just a “Dumb Blonde”, Hollywood continued to pump the sex starlet money machine, and refused to listen to Marilyn.
Although there were many other actresses before and during Marilyn’s era that have been typecast as a sex symbol, no one filled the roll better than Marilyn Monroe. The timing for Marilyn was perfect. After WWII America was coming into her own, and the innocence of the American society was slowly being ripped away. Hollywood realized that sex sells. Young men want Marilyn, and young women want to be like Marilyn.
However, this shedding of innocence of American society was the minority. Of course it was mostly a feeling of the younger generation, but conservatism still had a strong hold on American society and images of sex, and merely the suggestion of anything sex was still viewed as wrong or devilish.
Marilyn was pushing the envelope at a time when the majority of the country was not used to this type of openness towards sexuality. Yes, she was ground breaking, but this came at a grave cost.
This had taken a toll on Marilyn, and was the underlying factor of Marilyn’s tragic death. Hollywood’s greed and unwillingness to listen to one of its biggest stars led to Marilyn’s depression, ultimately her overdose of barbiturates, ruled as a “probable suicide”.
Andy Warhol had the foresight to see the whole story, and as any true artist does, created a work of art that not only details her life, but also comments on the state of the times in the country, as well as specific factors influencing American society during this era, such as commercialism, consumerism, greed, celebrity, sexuality and the innocence, growth and coming out of the American society. By definition, it is the epitome of Pop Art, and possibly the most famous work to come out of the Pop art
movement
Marilyn Monroe went from the top of her game, to the depths of hell, and overdosed at age 36. Warhol’s image of Marilyn represents her tragic story, and puts it in perspective in a way, that biographies and film documentaries do not, and frankly, can not. Warhol made Marilyn a work of art, for viewers to stop and think about her tragic life, the culture of Hollywood, the insincerities of greed towards a human life, and the attitude of America towards sexuality during this time, in the most abstract of ways. All this by just appropriating an image of Marilyn. It’s the concept of this work, and not the work itself that speaks volumes. And this is why the work is genius!

WOW! – Work of the Week – Ed Rushca – Bliss Bucket



Ed Ruscha
Bliss Bucket
2010
Lithograph
28 3/4 x 28 in.
Edition of 50
Pencil signed, dated and numbered

About the work:
One of the most important postwar artists, Ed Ruscha came into prominence during the 1960s pop art movement. First recognized for his associations to graphic design and commercial art, Ruscha became admired for his mediations on word and image, where a word literally becomes an object.
Language has often invaded the visual arts during the past century, but no other artist uses it the way Ruscha does. His early paintings are not pictures of words but words treated as visual constructs. “I like the idea of a word becoming a picture, almost leaving its body, then coming back and becoming a word again,” he once said. “I see myself working with two things that don’t even ask to understand each other.”
This weeks WORK OF THE WEEK – WOW!!! is Bliss Bucket, a snowcapped mountain scene, bearing the words, with his self invented font.
Since the late 1990s the mountain has become one of Ruscha’s most consistent motifs. He produces classic mountains, taken either from images of the Himalayas or from his own imagination.
Ruscha has said, ‘It’s not a celebration of nature. I’m not trying to show beauty. The concept came to me as a logical extension of the landscapes that I’ve been painting for a while – horizontal landscapes, flatlands, the landscape I grew up in. Mountains like this were only ever a dream to me; they meant Canada or Colorado. I’m not really painting mountains, but an idea of mountains. picturing some kind of unobtainable bliss or glory … tall, dangerous, beautiful.”
He has used these epic backdrops to support a range of ambiguous or bland phrases such as this one here. The deliberately neutral typeface in this work has now become his trademark font, with squared off letters recalling those in the Hollywood sign. He describes it as ‘no-style’ or Boy Scout Utility Modern’
Actually, the words aren’t so much written on top of the depiction of the mountain as inscribed within the work, the crisp lettering clear, clean and as virgin as the snow itself. Each word has the momentous authority of an alp; they shout, as though to start an avalanche.
Ruscha would stumble upon these words, considering them to be his own version of Duchampian readymades. When the words began to invade his mountain paintings the result was boldly striking and beautifully absurd. The mountains receded to the background while statements such as BLISS BUCKET threw themselves at the front of the plane with big, look-at-me lettering making it impossible not to enjoy these clever combinations.
Inspired by the text based works of fellow Pop artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Ruscha pursued a lifelong artistic exploration into the formal elements of printed text and its fluid relationship to the visual image. By culling words, images and phrases that have been imprinted in his memory and that are found in mass media (print culture, advertising billboards, etc.), his work often serves as a visual encyclopedia of American culture. These symbols of consumer culture are as deeply rooted in the American vernacular as the mountains Ruscha paints.
His clever word associations pop off brightly colored canvases daring the viewer to react. For Ruscha words are also images, in that they provoke the imagination of the viewer.
Ruscha’a mounting paintings speak to how commercialism and consumerism are slowly encroaching on the natural world. This work is about before and after and the passage of time. The presence of commercialism and consumerism is unnatural and harsh, yet they accurately reflect the effect that our consumer driven culture has on the dwindling unspoiled natural world.
Mass media, billboards, and megastores are empires in their own right and have left an indelible imprint on our world. The unblemished views of these pristine monuments are slowly being encroached upon by sprawling suburban strip malls and colossal super stores. “The buildings violate the beauty of these mountains,” The abstraction with which he renders is classic Ruscha – he doesn’t give us too much but just enough to trigger our imaginations and associations. The subtlety of this rendering allows this painting to leave a far more substantial imprint on the viewer and make a much stronger statement on the condition of our world.