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They Called Her Styrene, Etc. Hardcover – Bargain Price, January 10, 2000
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'Ambiguous, often hilarious and with no narrative to explain their presence, the words become objects or landscapes all to themselves.' (V magazine) '... The size and shape of a small, thick block - perfect for stocking-stuffing.' (New York Magazine)
About the Author
Ed Ruscha was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1937 and moved to Los Angeles in 1956, excited by the newness, mobility and freedom represented by the southern Californian landscape. He studied commercial art at the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) in Los Angeles from 1956 to 1960. Ruscha began making prints and drawings consisting of one word on an often monochromatic, abstract background in the late 1950s. Since then his work has been characterized by the exploration of language-based imagery. Ruscha's style is characterized by deadpan wit and cool understatement, which were developed further in his language-based prints and paintings that mark an axis between audacious Pop Art and introspective Conceptualism. In the early 1970s, Ruscha began working with Cirrus Editions and Cirrus Gallery in Los Angeles, pursuing his interest in liquid words, unconventional ink substances (including chocolate, Pepto Bismol and caviar) and trompe l'oeil imagery. Throughout his career Ruscha has worked in a wide range of media - photography, graphic design, painting, drawing, printmaking and film. Ruscha's work continues to be exhibited at museums and galleries around the world. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
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Ruscha himself has a cryptic, but intriguing comment right at the end of the book: "Sometimes found words are the most pure because they have nothing to do with you. I take things as I find them. A lot of these things come from the noise of everyday life." End of comment.
So far as I know, Ruscha has not undertaken to publish these works as writing, nor in the context of writing. As visual art, these works inhabit that territory that utilizes language for its own purposes. Its closest kin in that vein may be the signage of Jenny Holzer, the paintings of Lawrence Weiner, or the poster paintings of Barbara Krueger, but the more densely textual pseudo-philosophical musings of Joseph Kosuth and Art Language aren't entirely unrelated either. Ruscha's prints and paintings make use of color and the illusions of depth and texture in ways that Holzer's do not and his works often lack the overt political commentary one finds in her work and in that of Krueger's. At its most plain, a Ruscha work might consist of white sans serif letters centered against a black background:
While Holzer has executed some pieces etched into benches, a form that has to recall the (literally) concrete poems of Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay, Ruscha's droll texts strike me in many ways being better writing. If, that is, they are writing at all. The last text above, for example, makes great use of the recurrence of the a, r and m sounds (not to mention the echo of the w one hears in the two instances of the u), an attention to the smallest of details that might be more apt to associate with the poetry of Robert Grenier. Microwriting such as this can invoke every pleasure one expects from the best of poetry. The first two pieces above aren't bad either - both use the same strategy of invoking a single term that is "out of context" in its phrase (screws and musical), which functions to set the language around it into a kind of relief, classic demonstrations of what the Russian formalists called ostrananie, Brecht "the alienation effect," and which Pound characterized as "making it new."
In addition to reminding me at moments of Grenier, some of the more visually complex of Ruscha's pieces, where richly textured "3D" words float in idealized pastel skies, remind me of how Hannah Weiner used to describe her visual hallucinations, words that would appear on people's foreheads that to her seemed to be composed in "dog fur" or similar materials. Weiner used these messages to create her "clairvoyant" works, although that aspect of such found language is not carried through her writing - the closest she gets is to occasionally "erase" some lines of certain letters.
All of which makes Ed Ruscha's texts function as an intriguing test of the boundaries of writing - how can a lone word such as "fud," written in what looks like white ribbon on an intense red surface (onto which the letters cast shadows) function as a poem? It can / It can't / It can / It can't - like a Necker cube or other optical illusions, the text strobes in and out of the realm of literature (though it always remains within the realm of the visual). It may be that this flicker effect is precisely Ed Ruscha's contribution to writing.
I bought it shortly afterwards.
I already described it- it's a book of pictures with words across them. I enjoy it very much. As you sit and thumb through all of the pages, each word or group of words, combined with the colors on the background, conjur all sorts of thought and feelings inside you.
For me, it serves very well to just sit and thumb through it, looking at all the pictures and letting my mind wander as the book prescribes.