Ed Ruscha and Rachel Kushner

In the third episode of “Artists On Writers | Writers On Artists,” novelist Rachel Kushner and artist Ed Ruscha talk about their love of vintage cars, share memories of Kathy Acker and Walter Hopps, and enjoy a good pun.

Rachel Kushner’s The Hard Crowd: Essays 2000–2010 will be out on April 6th with Scribner.

Ed Ruscha: OKLA, the artist’s first solo exhibition in his home state, is on view at the Oklahoma Contemporary through July 5th.

“Artists On Writers | Writers On Artists” brings together luminaries in the fields of art and literature to have the conversations they themselves wish to have. This bi-weekly web series is a joint production of Artforum and Bookforum, and is sponsored by the Morgan Library & Museum.

Rachel Kushner is the author of the internationally acclaimed novels The Mars Room, The Flamethrowers, and_ Telex from Cuba, _as well as a book of short stories, The Strange Case of Rachel K. She has won the Prix Médicis and been a finalist for the Booker Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Folio Prize, the James Tait Black Prize, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and was twice a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction. She is a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow and the recipient of the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her books have been translated into twenty-six languages. 

Ed Ruscha lives and works in Los Angeles. At the start of his artistic career, Ruscha called himself an “abstract artist ... who deals with subject matter.” Abandoning academic connotations that came to be associated with Abstract Expressionism, he looked instead to tropes of advertising and brought words—as form, symbol, and material—to the forefront of painting. Working in diverse media with humor and wit, he oscillates between sign and substance, locating the sublime in landscapes both natural and artificial.

Ruscha’s paintings of the 1960s explore the noise and the fluidity of language. With works such as OOF (1962–63)—which presents the exclamation in yellow block letters on a blue ground—it is nearly impossible to look at the painting without verbalizing the visual. Since his first exhibition with Gagosian in 1993, Ruscha has had twenty-one solo exhibitions with the gallery, including Custom-Built Intrigue: Drawings 1974–84 (2017), comprising a decade of reverse-stencil drawings of phrases rendered in pastel, dry pigment, and various edible substances, from spinach to carrot juice. The first retrospective of Ruscha’s drawings was held in 2004 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Ruscha continues to influence contemporary artists worldwide, his formal experimentations and clever use of the American vernacular evolving in form and meaning as technology and internet platforms alter the essence of human communication. Ruscha represented the United States at the 51st Venice Biennale (2005) with Course of Empire, an installation of ten paintings. Inspired by nineteenth century American artist Thomas Cole’s famous painting cycle of the same name, the work alludes to the pitfalls surrounding modernist visions of progress. In 2018 Ruscha’s Course of Empire was presented concurrently with Cole’s at the National Gallery in London. Ruscha’s most recent shows include Paintings at Gagosian New York.