PRINT October 2003

Ed Ruscha

In the summer of 1962 Joe Goode and I hitchhiked from Los Angeles to New York, where we met Andy Warhol at his firehouse studio. He said, “Let’s go down and see Jim Rosenquist.” So we went down to Rosenquist’s studio on Coenties Slip—we were there for maybe an hour or so. I remember him working on a painting that had basketball players in it, called Painting for the American Negro. He had a wall phone with what seemed like hundreds of numbers tacked up around it. He had a really messy studio that was sort of perfect for what he was doing, with visuals all over the walls and floor.

I connected with Rosenquist because we’re midwesterners, although I was more from the Southwest and Oklahoma. This was more or less my first trip to New York, and I was wowed by the city. The fact that somebody came from North Dakota, or Minnesota, that somebody from those simple places went to a big city like that and started to interpret the fast, modern world—it took my breath away. I was inspired by him for that reason.

I always appreciated the abstractness of his work, plus the fact that there were fragments of real life that he would explore. I identified with some fragments immediately, like his painting I Love You with My Ford. My first car was that Ford, so that was an identifier for me. Early on, I also thought he was audacious because he would put three-dimensional objects on a canvas and then paint over them as though they weren’t there. I felt like that was breaking new ground, an entirely new voice in the landscape. And Rosenquist is still difficult to define, I think. Sometimes you can get a line on an artist, and the artist finally sort of navigates this line that people have drawn around him. Rosenquist avoided that. He did one thing after another, and somehow over the span of his entire life they all relate to one another—yet, individually, they clash. He could paint an object that was mundane and terrifying at the same time. And that’s what I like about his work.

A retrospective of Ed Ruscha’s drawings will open at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in July 2004.