June 19, 2017
In the mid-1970s, when the art dealer Leo Castelli began to exhibit Ed Ruscha’s drawings and paintings, his main gallery occupied the second floor of a townhouse at 4 East 77th Street, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Ruscha presented his first solo show of drawings with Castelli in 1973. Around that time, his drawings that related to letters and words were beginning to shed some of their earlier figurative skin, as well as their overt allegiance to Pop art. Gone were the brightly lit Standard Oil gas station and the iconic Twentieth Century Fox banner. Ruscha was moving towards a more open-ended, conceptual evocation of disembodied phrases. These were words that might be overheard through the cracked window of a moving car, or wafting across the grass of a baseball park, or chiseled into the side of a passing school, or even issuing from the lips of a friend, who, apparently once said to Ruscha, “Let me putty your window panes.”
In the carefully considered selection of thirty-one works on paper currently on view at Gagosian uptown—all of which have been loaned from private collectors and museums—Ruscha seems to be teasing out what happens when everyday phrases excised from their original context are then stenciled—or in this case reverse stenciled—onto a field of color.