I've been thinking about blog space to highlight my archives-- I've been around long enough to have a fair amount of work not internet available (particularly material from the late Bay Guardian). I interviewed Ed Ruscha in 2001 when he had a show of his print archives at the deYoung. Growing up in LA, Ruscha was an art god, and talking to him was a crushing disappointment—he's a man of few words and perhaps he was in a mood, but didn't give me much. Or so I recall. It took me months to make a recovery and continue to appreciate his work. As this is a Ruscha summer— he's got another big show at the deYoung, and one Crown Point Press, not to mention Gagosian in Beverly HIlls— it seemed like a good time to dig up that piece and read just what he said. Here's the latter half of the piece from the SF Bay Guardian, May 2001.
". . . . during a brief interview at the museum, Ruscha expressed that he’s not necessarily interested in being pinned down to particular influences, especially the West. "I don't know why people say that I'm so typically L.A.," he says with quiet, genuine disbelief. “I don't feel like it's my job to say what the city is like. It's my job to go off and let my mind wander, and I use the city as an excuse to do that. But I see similar things when I go to New York. I see a lot of real vital imagery. Things that aren't so pretty but have substance to them, underpasses, oil spots, what have you. It's not just LA particularly, it happens to be that I live there.”
"Maybe my work comes out of a form of neurotic anxiety that exists in that city," he adds. "But it also exists on the road." Ruscha's work revels in the kind of odd visions seen on a road trip, and in biographical readings of his work, frequent mentions are made of his late 1950s car trips from his native Nebraska to California, along the now-mythic Route 66, an interstate dotted with the service stations, motels and billboards that have entered into his early iconography.
"Driving in the car is a rich kind of experience, it sets things flowing," the self-described “Ford person” admits. "I get on the freeway and as I'm driving, I start seeing things as material or possibilities for some kind of thinking. I write notes to myself when I'm driving so they're all totally scribbled. Once I got this notion 'boy meets girl' stuck in my head so I wrote it thing out. It's almost illegible and it had this force and presence to it that I enlarged the thing and made a painting from it."
As well as working in Venice, California, Ruscha has a house in the Mojave Desert, a place where he goes to get away from his daily studio practice. Fittingly, it’s set in a flat, barren landscape, and requires a road trip to get there. "I just love being in the desert," he says. "While I’m at my house there, I just engage in the events of plain living. There are usually fifty things to do--fix that latch on that door, I've got to do this and polish that. But it's a good feeling, just to leave the big city and go some place remote is inspiring."
He also cites the car radio as a source of inspiration. "The radio is the soundtrack for what I'm seeing. I like the idea of listening to the music and looking at this still scene out here. The idea that the music could be echoing that or the music was specifically written for that makes it something different. It kicks off something."
"There's one LA radio station that I like to listen to. It's actually two overlapping radio stations. When you get two kinds of music that are overlapping each other it's really interesting. Maybe a classical piano piece is overlapping with a country and western tune. Sometimes a voice comes in, a news report or something. It's completely chance. I like listening to stuff like that."
Ruscha’s work emerges from just such unexpected juxtapositions. It makes sense then that he approaches his work with instinct and a bit of restlessness. “All I know is that I can't exactly keep doing the same thing over and over again like a broken record,” he says. “It's so puzzling when you try to evaluate yourself. I just feel like there's lots yet to do and I don't know what it'll be. I've got no game plan or strategy." Somehow, you know that ambling road will continue to take him somewhere with major visual appeal."