by Jody Zellen
|(Gagosian Gallery, West Hollywood) (Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills) Throughout his career, Ed Ruscha has been interested in the mapping and documentation of location. Early in his career he made books that presented Some Los Angeles Apartments , Every Building on the Sunset Strip , and 34 Parking Lots in Los Angeles . These books became self contained narratives. In1962 Ruscha mapped a journey from Los Angeles to his native Oklahoma by photographing 26 gasoline stations along the route. This project, subsequently published as the book 26 Gasoline Stations referenced more than the banal gas stations Ruscha stopped at along the way. The stations refered to the stations of the cross. The book, more than documenting a sense of place, also laid out a spiritual journey.
In his latest paintings Ruscha has returned to the idea of mapping. The new works depict specific Los Angeles intersections, some more recognizable than others, but none of great significance. One painting is a simple grid. Two lines, representing streets, intersect in the lower right hand corner. Entitled Melrose and Orange, this painting simply (or not so simply) depicts where these two streets meet. The line itself is a single brush stroke moving across the blue speckled paper. The background is textured (painted with an airbrush). It suggests atmosphere. In Ruscha's paintings of Los Angeles there are no buildings or points of interest. The streets appear to be drawn from above yet with varying perspectives. Each piece depicts only a small portion of L.A.'s sprawling metropolis. One painting presents three local streets: Western, Manhattan and 3rd. In another work, the curved road that connects Sunset Boulevard to the Pacific Coast Highway emerges from a dark blue field. The lines of the road are sensuous curves that divide the painting into three separate parts. In Ruscha's maps of L.A., there are no differentiations between land and water, between neighborhoods or types of roads. What is usually significant in a map of L.A. has been omitted. All that remains is what the name and shape of the street suggests.
"Vermont, Franklin," a/c,
68 x 88", 1998.
"Gower, Beachwood, Franklin,"
"City Grid #2," acrylic on
|In City Grid #2 the section of the map bordered by Fountain and Hollywood (south and north), and Western and Normandie (west and east) is superimposed on a yellow wood paneled ground with a white square representing light streaming through a window. In many earlier works, including the permanent installation at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Ruscha painted the image of light. For the Getty painting a large shaft of light illuminates an empty space within the huge canvas. In other works the image of light is more subtle. It is depicted in relation to its surroundings, for example in a work entitled the Absolute End the light casts a shadow through a window pane. The shadowy grid lines from the window become the pattern of the painting. In City Grid #2 the angle of view of the pattern of light competes with the grid of the city streets receding into space.
The predominant tone in many of Ruscha's new paintings and works on paper is blue. Blue is the color of the sky, as well as the color of the ocean.
As Ruscha's work depicts neither the sky nor the ocean one has to wonder why his maps are blue. The blue presents a fiction. The blue represents calm. Ruscha, in his new paintings has stripped L.A. of its inhabitants and of the chaos of its busy streets. No real space is depicted. Rather he presents abstractions of the urban metropolis reduced to names and shapes that flow and weave across the landscape.
Ruscha has a talent for making the banal seem significant. He often reduces his subject to the minimum amount of detail needed for identification. Places and structures are often depicted as shadows. Ruscha is interested in language, and how that language can describe but not depict space. In these paintings the text simply identifies a location. Words have been present in many of Ruscha's paintings, often occupying the whole canvas. What they say is always clear. What they mean is more ambiguous. In these new works Ruscha succeeds in once again evoking the space of Los Angeles by presenting a small detail of its structure.