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 – Fulvio Bianconi – Pezzato Vase, Model 1329



Fulvio Bianconi
Pezzato Vase, Parigi, Model 1329
c. 1951
Polychrome patchwork glass
5 w x 4 1/2 d x 9 1/2 h in.
Signed Venini Italia to underside



About the work:

Fulvio Bianconi is one of the most important designers that generated the “Renaissance” of Venetian Murano glass-blowing art in the 20th century.

Bianconi was an innovator, focusing on pieces with sophisticated shapes, characterized by strong colors, designing striking works, some of which sum up the enthusiasm of the “fabulous” Fifties that would become icons of Murano glassmaking. He was the first glassmaker to portray human figures in glass, breaking with the long-held tradition of glass being perceived as a secondary material as far as artistic expression goes.

In 1946 he travelled many times to Murano to learn more about the art of glassmaking. Here he met Paolo Venini who, invited him to collaborate with his glassworks. From this collaboration the Figure della Commedia dell’Arte, the Tiepolos the Fazzoletto, the Sirene, the Pezzati and many others emerged.

New workmanship techniques of the glassmaking art and revision of the age-old ones were the subject of the creative research of Fulvio Bianconi. Molding movement and color into his glass pieces, Fulvio Bianconi established a totally up-to-date link with the history of Murano.

Before his innovations, glass had been used for utilitarian purposes. Bianconi pushed the limits of glassmaking in the traditional sense and material of glass itself by transforming it in both theory and practice. In his more than sixty years of artistic activity, he designed thousands of books, produced innumerous illustrations and paintings, and designed and created thousands of glass objects.

Bianconi was free to experiment with the formal qualities and potentials of glass as a fluid and organic medium. His earliest freelance work for Venini, which he not only designed but also cut and ground himself in order to become familiar with the medium, engages in a spontaneous aesthetic that intentionally and ironically protests against traditional values of perfect craftsmanship.

Fulvio Bianconi was one of the only glass designers who adapted trends in contemporary art into his work. There is an immediacy and flamboyancy in his aesthetic achieved through an improvised and freehand manipulation of glass while in the furnace. Rather than engage in the tradition of perfect repetition that had so long denoted artisanal excellence, Bianconi instead injected the individuality and expressivity of the artist’s hand into his glasswork designs. “The artistic glass,” wrote Bianconi, “must be unique, if it is repeated it loses its charm”. Though his idiosyncratic designs oftentimes brought him into direct conflict with the more restrained sensibilities of master Muranese glassworkers, it is exactly this freedom from traditional constraints that would lead Bianconi’s designs to have such a lasting influence.

An initial love for color and tendency towards abstraction would characterize the direction of Bianconi’s further creative evolution in the realm of glasswork. As he gained increasing confidence in his value as a designer, Bianconi reveled in the medium’s expressive potentials, and began to wholeheartedly utilize the luminosity of glass to develop intensely colorful displays that are almost painterly. Indeed, while form is always an essential part of Bianconi’s design, it is most often color that comes to the forefront as the true subject of his work.

This is particularly true of this week’s Work Of the Week (WOW!), which focuses on the Pezzato series, designed in 1950 and first displayed in the 1951 Triennale.

The Term “Pezzati” means spotted or patched, here, irregular patchworks of colored tesserae (small pieces of glass that form mosaics) are fused together to decorate and form the wall of the irregularly formed vase, in a seeming reference to both the theatricality of the harlequin’s outfit and Paul Klee’s work of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

This was a difficult technique, as each color has different properties, and they all have to be worked so that they get along with each other. To produce these Pezzati, the tesserae were first obtained from a cane flattened into a tape and cold-cut, and then arranged in a mosaic pattern on a fire stone. Once in the oven the effect of the heat welds the tesserae together forming a glass pattern, which then encloses into a cylinder shape to be worked into the final form, by blowing and hot-modeling.

For the Pezzati, Bianconi generally opted for unusual forms with flattened cross-sections, which were particularly irregular and characterized by soft lines, sometimes interrupted by constrictions and protrusions.

The Pezzati were proposed in 5 chromatic combinations, identified by the names of cities or continents: Paris, America, Stockholm, Istanbul and Venice. This Work Of the Week (WOW!) is from the Paris (Parigi) color scheme, composed of red, blue, green and clear tesserae. It is a prime example of Bianoni’s interest in color – bold and strong but calibrated. It also reveals his curiosity and innovative skills as well and his playful creative nature.

Fulvio Bianconi is a name well known to collectors of fine Italian glass. He designed many of the most important and original pieces associated with the mid 20th century Murano Italian glass, and the Pezzato pieces are among his most striking and sought after.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Damien Hirst – Ala-Met



Damein Hirst
Ala-Met
2011
Woodcut
31 1/2 x 25 in.
Edition of 55
Pencil signed and numbered


About the work:

“To create that structure, to do those colours, and do nothing. I suddenly got what I wanted. It was just a way of pinning down the joy of colour.”

Damien Hirst started his ‘Pharmaceutical’ spot painting series in 1986, when he painted two almost identical arrangements of colored spots on the wall of his warehouse. Today, the spot works are amongst his most widely recognized pieces.

The spot series follows a formula. Every work is created without any physical evidence of human intervention, appearing to be constructed mechanically. Each color is unique, never repeated and complimentary to the surrounding ones. The formula of the spot paintings also dictates that the spaces between the spots are always equal to the diameter of the spots themselves. Hirst explains that, “mathematically, with the spot paintings, I probably discovered the most fundamentally important thing in any kind of art. Which is the harmony of where colour can exist on its own, interacting with other colours in a perfect format.”

The titles for the works also follow a specification, and are taken from the chemical company Sigma-Aldrich’s catalogue ‘Biochemicals for Research and Diagnostic Reagents.’

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Ala-Met.

The name for Ala-Met is derived from two amino acids, Alanine and Methionine, organic compounds that participate in a number of processes such as neurotransmitter transport and biosynthesis.

Although created in the deceptively simple polk-dot motif, the work is hypnotic and disorienting, inducing the sort of hazy effects one might get from powerful mind and body altering pharmaceutical substances. Some colors seem to jump out from the white background, while others recede, highlighting Hirst’s expert control of color.

Ala-Met is also faithful to the mechanical and detached appearance of the spot paintings, despite that it is a work created by woodcut. The woodcut is a relief printing technique, in which a block of wood is carved along the woodgrain. This technique typically leaves woodgrain marks on the printed product, whereas Ala-Met achieves a uniform and seamless finish in each spot.

Throughout his body of work, Hirst has demonstrated a fascination with mortality. His work calls into question our awareness and convictions about the boundaries that separate desire and fear, life and death, reason and faith, love and hate. Hirst uses the tools and iconography of science and religion, creating works of art whose beauty and intensity offer the viewer insight into art that transcends our familiar understanding of those domains.

The spot paintings, with their titles tied to the pharmaceutical industry play on the fact that we have become a drug induced society, yet at the same time these paintings speak volumes about the art itself, as a work of art. Hirst’s work is post expressionism. “I wanted to find a way to use colour in paintings that wasn’t expressionism.” However Hirst does use color and the placement of these colors to express certain ideas or emotions. Each spot painting will have a different meaning or feeling to each viewer coming from different cultures, with a whole different set of life experiences.

Damien Hirst has often been a polarizing figure in the art world. His often provokes outrage as well as mystified shrugs. In addition to keeping up with the Warholian tradition of repetitive, consistent images, the spot artworks bring up cultural and contemporary questions. Upon seeing these spot paintings, the lay person will ask “Is that art?” or “That painting cost that much for spots?” This was also said about Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can paintings. Time has proven the importance of the Campbell’s Soup Can painting to the art world, as will Hirst’s Spot paintings.

“WOW! – Work of the Week – Jesus Rafael Soto – Screenprints A, B, C & D from the Jai-Alai Series



Jesus Rafael Soto
Screenprints A, B, C & D from the Jai-Alai Series
1969
Screenprint on Perspex
24 1/4 x 19 1/2 in. each
Edition of 300
Signed and numbered, etched in perspex


Jésus Rafael Soto was a defining figure of both the Optical Art and Kinetic Sculpture movements. He was an acclaimed artist in his native Venezuela, having graduated from the Escuela de Bellas Artes y Artes Aplicadas in Caracas, and moved to Paris after the Second World War to undertake research in constructivist art. He participated in a groundbreaking exhibit at the Denise René Gallery in Paris called Le Mouvement. René’s guiding principle was that art must invent new paths in order to exist. And Soto’s art does just that.

He explored the phenomenological effects between two-dimensional and three-dimensional planes, fully engaging his viewers from every angle. He was a master at removing all subjectivity linked to personal taste, employing strictly geometric forms, squares, straight lines and primary colors, with a focus on the depiction of relationships between and movement of objects, rather than the objects themselves.

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Soto’s Screenprints A, B, C & D from the Jai-Alai Series

The series takes its title from a sport in which the players and the ball remain in continuous motion, involving the ball to bounce off a walled space by accelerating it to high speeds with a hand-held device called a cesta. This continual movement transforms the relationship between space and time and are characteristics of the series that Soto explored in a conscious way. In naming the series Jai-Alai, the artist is allowing the viewer to understand his artistic research, by identifying the source. Just as in the process of observing the sport firsthand, each and every vantage point is equally as valid as it is important, and Soto has translated these distinct views into the artwork. The game does not occur from a single lens or fixed point of view, and neither does the art. It requires a process of moving through multiple states of time and space.

Working with flat lines of color and abstract geometric form, the artist stimulates optical effect through the manipulation of color theory and the dynamic between background and foreground, turing the viewer into a spectator from many different angles.

As one of the most intriguing artistic minds of his day, Jésus Rafael Soto’s quest for aesthetic representation of the immaterial, rejection of the figurative and use of traditional geometric form resulted in not only a career marked with ingenuity and success, but also of a wholly fresh and interactive experience for the viewer of his kinetic works.

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 – 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.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Robert Indiana, American Dream #2



Robert Indiana
American Dream #2
1982
Screenprint on four separate sheets
26 3/4 x 26 3/4 each
77 1/2 x 77 1/2 overall
Edition of 100
Pencil signed, dated and numbered


About the work:
On Saturday, May 19, 2018 Robert Indiana passed away due to respiratory failure. He will be missed but his art and legacy will live on
“There have been many American SIGN painters, but there never were any American sign PAINTERS”. This sums up Robert Indiana’s position in the world of contemporary art. He has taken the everyday symbols of roadside America and made them into brilliantly colored geometric pop art. In his work he has been an ironic commentator on the American scene. Both his graphics and his paintings have made cultural statements on life and, during the rebellious 1960’s, pointed political statements as well.
Born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana, in 1928, he adopted the name of his native state as a pseudonymous surname early in his career. What Indiana calls “sculptural poems”, his work often consists of bold, simple, iconic images, especially numbers and short words like “EAT”, “HUG”, and “LOVE”. Rather than using symbols from the mass media, Indiana makes images of words that focus on identity. Using them in bold block letters in vivid colors, he has enticed his viewers to look at the commonplace from a new perspective.
Despite his unique methods, several important aspects of Indiana’s works clearly identify him as a Pop artist. He manages to give a direct and honest description of American culture while appearing cool and uninvolved, much as Warhol did by simply reproducing images of superstars and soup can labels.
However, what distinguishes Indiana from his “Pop” colleagues is the depth of his personal engagement with his subject matter. Indiana’s works all speak to the vital forces that have shaped American culture in the late half of the 20th century: personal and national identity, political and social upheaval and stasis, the rise of consumer culture, and the pressures of history. He uses his art it to both celebrate and criticize the national way of life.
In 1961, Indiana began a series titled the American Dream, a recurring theme in his work, which along with his other famous stenciled-text images—most notably LOVE—he has used to both celebrate and criticize American life.
The American Dream is the cornerstone of Indiana’s mature work. The roots of this powerful concept pervaded the artist’s Depression-era childhood, as well as the social and political aspirations of the United States during his formative years as an artist (1940s-1960s). It was the theme of his first major painting sold to The Museum of Modern Art in 1961. He recalls, “The first two or three dreams (there were 9 American Dream paintings in total), I would say were cynical. I was really being very critical of certain aspects of the American experience. “Dream” was used in an ironic sense.
This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Robert Indiana’s American Dream #2, a 4 piece set of screenprints each hung in a diamond shape, to form a 1 piece larger diamond shape.
Indiana saw the American Dream as “broken. . .no longer in effect for us and for lots of others.” In 1960, Indiana began applying highly saturated color to his geometric paintings. By the end of the year, he was adding words to them. Three of the four panels in American Dream #2 have the words EAT, JACK, and JUKE. Despite how simple Indiana’s verbal-visual amalgams seem, they contain multiple layers of meaning; deciphering them is akin to unraveling a conceptually complex puzzle.
In this work, the words suggest multiple references—for example, the word JUKE is associated with the greed of gambling and the fraud of “tilting” or cheating the pinball machine. Thus the imagery of casino tokens which gives a false promise and fantasy of American prosperity while also acknowledging the
failures of American ethics.
JACK may refer to John F. Kennedy, the great hope for America at the time, but very flawed in deed.“I think 1962 was the last year that Jack Kennedy lived, so that usually Jack refers to the president. However, if we want to keep consistent, in ’52 I met someone named Jack Curtis, who became an important friend in my life, and so it has a dual meaning.”
By presenting familiar words in new ways, he asks the viewer to reevaluate assumptions and emotions associated with those words. For example, no longer does the word “EAT” simply describe an act, but a whole set of social conditions and practices associated with that act. Viewers might see the intimacy of eating and its central role in family, community, and romantic rituals or they might understand the negative aspects of eating in a society where high-fat and gluttonous diets are the norm.
The word EAT also goes back much further and fills a large part of his life, EAT was the last word that Robert Indiana’s mother said before she died. She told him to be sure to eat.
As a child during the Depression, Indiana’s father left his mother, and in order to support him, and herself, his mother opened a restaurant, and so for several years things like eat signs also were a prominent part of Indiana’s life. The EAT aspect of this work is also a personal thing. It’s autobiographical.
What this work demonstrates, once again, is Indiana’s considerable style as a graphic designer whose manipulation of words, symbols, colors and spaces, can be pleasing and provocative. His designs reverberate, their elements bouncing off one other in dynamic relationships as they comment on the ups and downs of American life, his own included.
Robert Indiana provided an example of how to create work that was both deeply personal and universal, work with a clear message that could also be open to interpretation, work that spoke of its own time and reflected on contemporary events, but also carried a message to future generations.
The “painter of signs”, paints “signs of the times.”

WOW! – Work of the Week – Ed Ruscha, Main Street



 

Ed Ruscha
Main Street
1990
Lithograph
8 1/2 x 10 1/4 in.
Edition of 250
Pencil signed, dated and numbered



About the work:

Ed Ruscha can be called the Jack Kerouac of art. Since his first road trip from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles in 1956, West coast Pop artist Ed Ruscha has been influenced by themes and icons surrounding America. The drive, which he took with his life long friend, classical guitarist and composer Mason Williams took about three days in a 1950 Ford sedan.

At the time, Ruscha, who has since become an avid photographer, did not own a camera and the only record of the trip is a log that the artist has kept over the years. The two friends, who were still teenagers at the time, used the log to keep track of their expenses as they were trying to stick to a budget. The log tells the story of their journey. Ruscha has said: “My art, really my life, evolved out of that trip. […] The log took the place of photographs. I got a camera soon after arriving in L.A.” American landscapes and text are what the artist is best known for, both of which emerged from from his cross country experience.

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Main Street, by Ed Ruscha.

“Main Street” is part of the iconography of American life.
The “Main Street of America” branding was used to promote U.S. Route 66 in its heyday. Main Street is a generic phrase used to denote a primary retail street of a village, town or small city.

In small towns across the United States, Main Street is not only the major road running through town but the site of all street life, a place where townspeople hang out and watch the annual parades go by. In the general sense, the term “Main Street” refers to a place of traditional values. However, in the America of later decades, “Main Street” represents the interests of everyday people and small business owners, in contrast with “Wall Street”, symbolizing the interests of large national corporations.

Ruscha treats words as visual compositions which are typically categorized between pop and conceptual art. Works feature a word with strong connotations and a powerful visual impact. Ruscha uses the multiplicity of meaning to encourage the viewer to consider all the subconscious connotations of the word. This could be expanded to an exploration of the subconscious meanings hidden in all forms of language. The words elicits a mixed response within the viewer in which preconceived ideas about the subject are confronted and either validated or challenged.

Noting the transformation of Main Streets in American cities from small “mom and pop” businesses, ice cream parlours, and public square gatherings, to big box stores, chain restaurants, and consumers jay walking across the street, while burying their heads in their cell phones, the words Main Street takes on a much diff erent meaning than it once did. Ruscha’s Main Street, not only takes us back to the days of nostalgia, but also to modern times where Main Street meets and flirts with Wall Street. Innocence and American values are overshadowed by greed and technology. Overshadowed is the key word, because not only is Ruscha’s Main Street a sign of modernism replacing the past, but it also implies a sense of hope, that one day the traces of the past will lead to a happy memory, and a wanting to inject the future with the values of the days of old.

Rather than simply painting a word, Ruscha considered the particular font that might add an elevated emotion to the meaning much like the way a poet considers a phrase. By painting a word as a visual, he felt he was marking it as offi cial, glorifying it as an object rather than a mere piece of text.

The typography of the words in Main Street sets this piece apart from the majority of his work because it is not done in “Boy Scout Utility Modern.” Inspired by the Hollywood sign, the artist invented “Boy Scout Utility Modern” in 1980, and uses it regularly in his works. In this case, rather, the font seems closer in nature to “Times.” “Times” is a classic font, designed for its legibility so it is an obvious choice for a representation of the most famous street name in America: Main Street. Main Street is an ode and textual portrait of an American symbol.

Ed Ruscha is fascinated with the streetscape as a subject matter, and over the span of his six-decade career, Ed Ruscha has shaped the way we see it – depicting gas stations, signs or continuous photographs of Hollywood Boulevard. His works convey a distinct and bold brand of Americana. Ruscha explains. “I take things as I find them. A lot of these things come from the noise of everyday life.”