Ed Ruscha: OKLA

6 minutes
"Rusty Signs — Dead End 2" by Ed Ruscha

"Rusty Signs — Dead End 2" by Ed Ruscha

It’s not surprising that I visualize words when I think of Ed Ruscha. “OOF.” “Should Woulda Coulda.” “Fat Boy.” ‘Baby jet.” “In the city of Los Angeles there used to be vacant lots.” Words, phrases, and sometimes complete sentences are signature elements in many of his paintings. What I refer to as his “word paintings” may be the most recognizable to laymen like me, but his body of work is more diverse. It contains photographs, prints, drawings, films, books, installations, book sculptures, dog dishes, drum skins—Ruscha is a man of many mediums.

Ruscha is Nebraska-born and Oklahoma-raised, but his long career and identity as one of America’s first pop artists was spawned in Los Angeles. In 1956, after he turned eighteen, Ruscha set out on a epic road trip to L.A. and stayed there. He enrolled in the Chouinard Art Institute, now the California Institute of the Arts, and got jobs painting signs and working for printers and advertising companies. The influences of his graphic design and advertising background can be seen throughout the prolific body of work he’s produced over six decades. Los Angeles, of course, clearly is a deep muse for him; many of his pieces incorporate the city’s culture, landscape, and general vibe.

"Ed Ruscha: OKLA" at Oklahoma Contemporary

"Ed Ruscha: OKLA" at Oklahoma Contemporary

Even though Ruscha’s now lived in L.A. for most of his life, his Oklahoma roots still show through. Oklahoma Contemporary’s newest exhibit Ed Ruscha: OKLA is the first exhibit to specifically showcase his connection to the state and the influence it’s hard on his art. It also is his first solo exhibition in Oklahoma. The exhibit was curated by Alexandra Schwartz, a New York City-based curator who devoted much time to writing about and studying Ruscha’s career, and Oklahoma Contemporary’s artistic director Jeremiah Matthew Davis.

The exhibit is sectioned into five parts. “Oklahoma OK” includes drawings, paintings, prints, and other works related to growing up in Oklahoma. Framed and flattened drum skins emblazoned with the phrases “I didn’t do nothing about it” and “I never done nobody no harm” call back to the local vernacular Ruscha remembers from his Oklahoma childhood. The second section “51% Angel, 49% Devil” explores references to Christianity and Ruscha’s Catholic upbringing. Evil, angel, hell, miracle, and sin are a few of the words that loom bold over backgrounds that range from simple solid colors to ethereal cloudbreaks. In the “Pop Origins,” the third section, visitors will see pop culture-inspired works that include a rending of a Spam container, the aptly titled Steak & Potato, and a painting with the words “Figure it on Out” transposed over a snowy mountain range. The latter refers to an Oklahoma man from whom Ruscha had borrowed money. When Ruscha asked how much he owed him, the man told him to “figure it on out.” Next, a section called “Route 66” focuses on car culture and westward expansion. Dead End, a print of a rusty dead-end road sign complete with bullet holes, invokes a familiar sight to those who’ve done their share of rural road trips. The exhibit’s fifth section is called “Made in the U.S.A,” and includes Mother’s Boys, one of Ruscha’s signature flag paintings.

"Mother's Boys" by Ed Ruscha)

"Mother's Boys" by Ed Ruscha)

Ed Ruscha: OKLA also comes with its own experiential art experience in the form of Chocolate Room, which is a re-creation the installation Ruscha made for the 1970 Venice Biennale. At Oklahoma Contemporary, guests step into a room that contains 392 squares screenprinted with real chocolate. Created onsite, the intoxicatingly aromatic installation contains 100 pounds of chocolate on its walls, and sort of looks like the setting of a David Lynch dream sequence. The Venice Chocolate Room ultimately succumbed to an ant infestation and guests who discovered they could carve pictures and words into the chocolate squares. Time will tell how its Oklahoma successor fares.

Check out Ed Ruscha: OKLA through July 5 at Oklahoma Contemporary. As always, timed tickets that allow for ample social distancing are free and available by reservation at oklahomacontemporary.org. For more information, visit the website or call (405) 951-0000.

Get There
Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center, 11 NW 11th St Oklahoma City, OK 73103 or TravelOK.com
Written By
Megan Rossman

Megan Rossman is Oklahoma Today's photography editor.

Megan Rossman
Previous Blog

"What Now: Unfamiliar Possibilities"

Next Blog

"Weekly Events Calendar March 1-7, 2021"

You May Like

Weekly Events Calendar, September 27-October 3, 2021

Butterflies migrate, boats go zoom, and the Oklahoma BioBlitz is counting on you to do the counting in our latest Weekly Events Calendar.

Butterflies migrate, boats go zoom, and the Oklahoma BioBlitz is counting on you to do the counting in our latest Weekly Events Calendar.

By Greg Elwell | 5 min read Read BLOG

Tuesday Trivia: September 21, 2021

Learn more about this great Osage leader in today's Tuesday Trivia. Answer correctly and you could win a prize!

Learn more about this great Osage leader in today's Tuesday Trivia. Answer correctly and you could win a prize!

By Greg Elwell | 1 min read Read BLOG

Bucket List Road: Jasmine Moran Children's Museum

In his latest blog, Editor in Chief Nathan Gunter digs up a lot of dinosaur fun at the Jasmine Moran Children's Museum in Seminole.

In his latest blog, Editor in Chief Nathan Gunter digs up a lot of dinosaur fun at the Jasmine Moran Children's Museum in Seminole.

By Nathan Gunter | 7 min read Read BLOG