Thessaly La Force at Artsy:
Over the last couple of decades, Ed Ruscha’s work has come to symbolize Los Angeles and the West, but lately, it seems, Ruscha the artist has too. At 78, he is still very much a handsome man, with placid blue eyes and rugged features. He speaks deliberately and slowly, with a slight drawl—he says “Los Angeles” instead of “L.A.,” and “Cali-for-knee-ah,” not “Califor-nyah.” It’s a way of speaking that is reminiscent of the late ’50s and early ’60s, when cowboys first roamed through Marlboro ads and Marilyn Monroe dressed down in Levi’s rolled at the cuff. To those who admire him now, Ruscha is a little bit like a Kennedy, a type of man that we lost in the 21st century—old-fashioned but masculine, well-mannered but tough. He possesses a laid-back cool that has helped to define—along with others such as the late Chris Burden and John Baldessari—what we understand as the Los Angeles artist.
Opening this month at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, “Ed Ruscha and the Great American West” emphasizes Ruscha’s deep commitment to place, and acknowledges the pioneer he was for heading west, not east, when he first set out to be an artist. “I felt California had something to offer me,” said Ruscha earlier this week over Skype, explaining his decision at the age of 18, in 1956, to attend the Chouinard Art Institute (now known as California Institute of the Arts or CalArts). “New York was the center of the art world,” Ruscha conceded. “People dreamed about New York. When I visited, it was every bit of what I thought it would be like. But I didn’t have the urge to move there. It seemed to be too cold and complicated and expensive. It would have been difficult to get across town with a piece of lumber.” Instead, the palm trees and sunsets and sprawl were more alluring. “California,” he said, “was like a new swanky place for me to go.”