At 79 he is still breaking fresh artistic ground. He pads through his studio, followed by his shaggy rescue dog Lola, to a table where he opens a large flat cardboard package. Inside is a horseshoe-shaped length of clay with a series of laser cut metal letters sticking out of it, like birthday candles on a cake. The letters read: “WEN OUT FOR CIGRETS N NEVER CAME BACK”. It’s funny, baffling and characteristic of an artist who says he aims for “a kind of ‘huh?’ ” effect with a lot of his work. It is also something new. Once cast in bronze it will become, Ruscha says proudly, his first sculpture.Ben Hoyle, “Ed Ruscha, the pop painter with ‘the coolest gaze in American art’“, The Times, 25 February 2017.
Ben Hoyle’s easygoing interview with Ed Ruscha introduces his work as the heart of the British Museum’s exhibition “The American Dream: pop to the present” (9 March 9 to 18 June 2017). That is a bold assertion as the show included Claes Oldenburg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Rauschenberg and others recognizable to anyone who was briefly awake in a college art history class — even as long ago as the 70s. But, back then, not so much “Ed Ruscha”. Hoyle’s article – with its paragraphs’ casual packing in of news, telling descriptive detail and sharp observations (whether his or others’) of Ruscha’s art – makes a persuasive case.
Abigail Cain’s comments in Aperture on the Harry Ransom Center’s 2018 exhibition Ed Ruscha: Archaeology and Romance, which uses 150 displayed items to focus on 16 of Ruscha’s books, contextualizes Various Small Fires neatly. Quoting the Center’s photography curator Jessica S. Macdonald, Cain writes:
… lack of artistry is one of the hallmarks of Ruscha’s artist books. “The photographs of gas stations are bad photographs on purpose,” McDonald noted. “He’s trying to do the opposite of what a photographer trying to make an artistic photograph would be doing.” In a 1965 Artforum interview concerning his second book, Various Small Fires and Milk (1964), Ruscha explained that it didn’t even matter to him who took the photographs. “In fact, one of them was taken by someone else,” he said. “I went to a stock photograph place and looked for pictures of fires, there were none.”Abigail Cain, “Unpacking Ed Ruscha“, Aperture, 27 September 2018.
Ruscha on the future of the artist book:
I am wide awake when I see artist books. Here are people using actual ink on paper in the eventual age of total digital. For this reason I am retaining my hope and expectation of more books.From interview with Stephanie LaCava, “Artist Books/Artist’s Novels (Vol. 5): Ed Ruscha”, The Believer, 20 February 2017.