I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon looking at nine of Ed Ruscha’s books with Deborah Jones (prints and drawings room coordinator) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales Study Room. Whilst the holding is well-presented online (with key information on each item and reproductions of all the images), it really makes a difference to see the books themselves.
The books vary dramatically in terms of format and quality of production (for instance, paper, type of binding, image reproduction), which reinforces the observation by Di Piero (2012: 49) that ‘for Ruscha, a book can be an icon, an archive, a technology, an action zone, an artistic support, a motif.’ The contrast between, for instance, the 1963 Twentysix Gasoline Stations and the 1967 Thirtyfour Parking Lots is marked. The latter is a larger format with glossy paper and higher quality images (produced for Ruscha rather than by Ruscha). Whilst the former presents a kind of narrative (a three day journey with a distinct ‘end’), the impact of the latter is in the patterns in the aerial photographs of the deserted parking lots, and the juxtaposition of these. Royal Road Test (1967) presents other contrasts, both in form (spiral bound, text, full-bleed images, jointly authored) and content (a quasi-forensic report).
Looking at the books also reinforces Dziewior’s (2012) observation that there is a distinct rhythm to Ruscha’s books, particularly in the use of blank pages. Nine Swimming Pools is peppered with blank pages (varying from two to six pages), and Colored People and A Few Palm Trees, smaller format than the other books with glossy covers, have nothing but blank pages for the second half of each book. Thirtyfour Parking Lots has photographs of different proportions, including panoramic shots (taken to its extreme in the 7.5 metre, accordion folded Every Building on the Sunset Strip). And at the end of Thirtyfour Parking Lots there is one of Ruscha’s jokes, with a panoramic shot going beyond the constraints of the page and onto a tab. Deborah remarked that Ruscha is ‘cheeky’, which seems about right.
The splicing of images in Every Building on the Sunset Strip is crude, with a number of partial frames and disjunctions. Initially, I thought that, as with other Ruscha works (except Royal Road Test) there were no human figures (which I take to be a comment on Los Angeles life and the dominance of the car), but there are a couple of people sitting on a bench in one frame, and a couple of figures entering a shopping mall. It was great to unfold the whole thing (which is composed of a number of sections glued together), though we didn’t have a 7.5 metre stretch to lay it out flat.
I have revised two of my books for this activity to add in blank pages in line with the associated Ruscha books. If I had time to make further books, I think I would do something entitled ‘Small World’ or ‘Big Country’ which, inspired by Megan’s instagram comment, documented the ‘big’ objects (like the ‘Big Pineapple’ and the ‘Big Prawn’ which have sprung up along the Pacific Highway, using images from Google maps.
Final note: the copy of ‘Colored People’ had the price paid in a secondhand bookshop in London . £1.
Di Piero, W.S. 2012. ‘The sand is in the vaseline’. In Reading Ed Ruscha, edited by Y. Dziewior and K. Bregenz. Köln: Kunsthaus Bregenz. 46-53.
Dziewior, Y. 2012. ‘Reading Ed Ruscha’. In Reading Ed Ruscha, edited by Y. Dziewior and K. Bregenz. Köln: Kunsthaus Bregenz. 18-25.
Ruscha Books in Art Gallery of New South Wales holding
Twentysix Gasoline Stations, 1963
Various Small Fires, 1964
Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966
Thirtyfour Parking Lots, 1967
Royal Road Test, 1967
Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass, 1968
Real Estate Opportunities, 1970
A Few Palm Trees, 1971
Colored People, 1972