Relation between words and art in the paintings of Ed Ruscha.
Words are often used as a part of images in art. Relationship between text and image has long history since Aristotle discussed the connection between poetry and painting.
Words and their relation to reality and art are important part of Rene Magritte’s paintings. They are also used from a lot of Pop art artists (Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein), as well as Contemporary artists. As Michael R. Leaman wrote, “We live in the world saturated with word and image. There is no doubt that ‘Word and Image’ has taken its place at the centre stage of contemporary artistic practice.” (Art, Word and Image, 2010, p. 9). The paintings of Ed Ruscha are not only they are dedicated to the tension between words and images, but they also because of the influence, which his works have upon the history of the contemporary art. Moreover, the art of Ed Ruscha is related to Surrealism, Minimalism and Pop art, as well as Conceptual art, so I believe the question is valuable for the contemporary art. The problem of relation between language and image has a broad context as far as it presents linguistic problem, concerning word as a part of the structure of sign. As Saussure claimed, the sign is composed from concept (language) and object (the form that sign takes, its image).
How does Ed Ruscha use words in his paintings? To my mind this question has a few dimensions: Do visual images illustrate the text, or text control images? Is there a form of dialogue between them? Do words save their meanings after being transferred in painting? Are they mediators of sense or they are just images? According to Lisa Pasquariello, “Most criticism on Ruscha fuses the observation that he turns words into objects with the assumption that those words, in turn, relinquish whatever immanent or referential signifying capacities they might possess; bypassed is the potential of the rendered word to be both physical thing and conveyor of meaning, at once pictorial object and bearer of linguistic resonance and association”. (Ed Ruscha and the Language That He Used, 2004, page 5). Crossing the line of the meaning, Ed Ruscha decreases the space between images and words, although he collides them.
In paintings of Ed Ruscha art and language became one. His images of words fill in the canvases. Words live their own life; they define the subjects of paintings. They are usually drawn as made of different materials and have physical presence in the paintings. Words are really powerful and their materials strengthen the meaning – ‘Damage’ is burning, ‘Lisp’ is made of paper, ‘If’ is blurred on the horizon.
Ed Ruscha has developed his ideas in the context of the Pop Art movement in USA. He used painting to draw commodities and objects from everyday life. “By 1963, he had already established a reputation as one of the new breed of painters defining the Pop art movement. Yet even then Ruscha was claiming that he was not a ‘Pop’ artist, and that he did not even understand the meaning of the term.” (Kerry Brougher, Word as Landscape, 2000, p. 161). Artist’s works “are rightly regarded as beachheads in the genealogy of Conceptual art” (Lisa Pasquariello, op. cit., p. 1). His art is also relevant to surrealism and Rene Magritte’s paintings. Art critic David Bourdon described him as "a sort of cowboy Magritte gone Hollywood". Ed Ruscha’s works are closely connected with American landscape and lifestyle. He made series of paintings during his travelling across the country and he literally put the viewer in the driver’s seat. These landscapes, consist of empty fields or gasoline stations, are turned into abstract spaces, which expand words’ meanings. Ruscha’s paintings are also related to film industry. “Hollywood, that already complex concept, when overlaid onto a hill, takes on the mythologizing powers of the landscape, moving from a specific place to a metaphor for our plastic backwards times.” (Kerry Brougher. Word as Landscape, 2000, p. 169)
The question of relation between words and art is really important for art history and theory and Ed Ruscha’s work is has its valuable place in the development of that question and measuring new interpretations. Ruscha started to use words in 1966. Forty years after that language and art are still connected in searching of new meanings.