PRINT Summer 2013


Richard Artschwager

Richard Artschwager, 2008. Photo: Ann Artschwager.


WHEN I SAW Richard’s Formica works in the mid-1960s, I was amazed. There’s something about Formica—it seemed like the wonder surface of the day. (But it always made my palms itch.) Taking that on was a very brave thing for an artist to do. There must have been something in Richard that made him go for this new material. He saw some possibility in it and acted on it. The way he made the edges come together and mitered them: He was a master at that. And he was fortunate to have the skills of a finish carpenter; he knew all those little angles. He did lots of sharp corners and that sort of thing. He wasn’t a great believer in Minimalism, I don’t think, but what he made commented on Minimalism.

Richard was mindful of the functional aspect of furniture. He just took it to another area, and he was so good at it. Recently, paging through a book, I was surprised by a picture of a strange piece of his—it looks like an animal skin stretched over long pieces of wood—which turned out to be a functional chair. And he mixed things up by painting on top of fiberboard and Celotex and weird scumbly Formica surfaces, and so his furniture and his painting almost blend together.

Richard always asked himself the hard questions. Like: “How do I get inspiration?” And his answer was, “Well, I always just look around, and I ask myself, ‘What do I pick up on?’ And then I go from there.” That was an entirely new, wholly original way of saying what every artist is trying to say. I woke up to that and realized he was onto something good. We kind of spoke the same language. He understood, I think, that art is a visual medium, not a verbal medium, and that you can talk about something forever, but really, the work is there to look at, isn’t it?

Ed Ruscha is a Los Angeles–based artist.