Ed Ruscha, That Was Then This Is Now , 1989
Oil on canvas. 106.7 x 243.8 cm. (42 x 96 in). Signed and dated 'Ed Ruscha 1989' on the reverse; signed, titled and dated 'Ed Ruscha 1989 That Was Then This Is Now' on the stretcher. Est. £600,000-800,000
PROVENANCE Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (LC#ER332); Fred Hoffman Gallery, Inc., Los Angeles; Collection of Jay Chiat, Los Angeles This work will be included in the forthcoming Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume Four: 1988-1992, edited by Robert Dean and Lisa Turvey
NOTE "Some [words] are found, ready made, some are dreams, some come from newspapers.They are finished by blind faith. No matter if I've seen it on television or read it in the newspaper, my mind seems to wrap itself around that thing until it's done." (Ed Ruscha inconversation with Jana Sterbak ‘Premeditated: An Interview with Ed Ruscha' in Real Life Magazine, Summer 1985)
While some of the giants of 20th century art like Pablo Picasso and John Baldessari have occasionally incorporated text in their work, Ed Ruscha has devoted the near entirety of his oeuvre to language. Dating back to the early 1960s, isolated words against a variety of backgrounds have been a hallmark of the conceptual artist's sensibility.The present lot offers the viewer the imposing idiom "That Was Then This Is Now", a phrase Ruscha must have encountered when it was plastered across Los Angeles as the title for a 1985 film staring Emilio Estevez.The movie, based on a 1971 novel by Susan Eloise Hinton, is a tragic, coming of age tale about teenage foster brothers caught up in the violent world of drugs and gangs. Like the film's perplexing ending, Ed Ruscha's ambiguous words leave the viewer with more questions than answers.What was then? What is now? The implied dichotomy between the before and after of a pivotal incident, event, or moment in time forces the viewer to re-evaluate their ontological significance.The power of Ed Ruscha's art lies in his ability to not only create visually arresting works but to also conceptually offer his audience a plethora of potential unstable meanings. By its long horizontal shape,monumental size and subject matter combining imagery and bold faced text, That Was Then This Is Now is akin to the giant commercial billboards which populate the Los Angeles freeways.Though born in Oklahoma City, Nebraska, Ruscha moved to Los Angeles in 1956 where he worked as a sign painter and graphic designer. In addition, his passion for comic strips and book design fed his fascination for overlaying text on images of which the present lot is a perfect example. Beautifully rendered and meticulously executed, the bold, white lettering of the apocalyptic slogan THAT WAS THEN THIS IS NOW emerges from a grey night sky where the moonlight shines through the clouds.The influence of the Los Angeles landscape and lifestyle is evident as is the art of his famous peers from the Ferus Gallery. Using Pop Art as his springboard, Ruscha has, over nearly half a century, developed a unique visual vocabulary based around the vernacular of text.
‘'When I first became attracted to the idea of being an artist,painting was the last method, it was an almost obsolete, archaic form of communication. I felt newspapers, magazines, books,words, to be more meaningful than what some damn oil painter was doing.'' (Ed Ruscha in conversation with Neal Benezra, Ed Ruscha:Painting and Artistic License,Washington, D.C. 2000, p. 145)
Philips de Pury & Company. Contempory Art Evenig Sale. Juen 29 2009 London. www.phillipsdepury.com