Artist Ed Ruscha’s artwork is currently on display on the Joslyn Art Museum. The collection, “Word/Play” marks the first major exhibition of Ruscha’s work in his home state.
Word/Play” features artwork from the past six decades of Ruscha’s career. This includes prints, photographs and paintings documenting the development of his methods and styles.
Born in Omaha, Ruscha’s family moved to Oklahoma City when he was a child. He moved to California when he was in his 20s, but he frequently made the 1,400-mile journey to Oklahoma City. This traveling of Route 66 influenced much of his early work that is currently on display in “Word/Play.”
“Along the way it really started to help develop his visual language,” said Karin Campbell, the curator of “Word/Play.” “He would see billboards, direction signage, endless roads. He would talk about how the flat terrain would suddenly turn into mountainous terrain.”
Ruscha was intrigued by gas stations along Route 66, according to Campbell. Gas station de-signs during the 1950s and 1960s had vibrant colors and unique shapes—making a perfect subject for Ruscha’s artwork. He began by photographing the stations along his path between California and Oklahoma, which led to other artistic recreations.
“The idea of traversing the landscape, seeing how the new American West was developing, was really informative for his visual language,” Campbell said. “He’s talked about how he almost felt a moral responsibility to bring the news from the middle [of the country] to the coast.”
Originally trained as a commercial artist, Ruscha emulates advertisement styles through some of his art pieces. This is apparent in his prints and paintings that use bold, easy-to-read text. Several of these art pieces have no particular message, just various words in text that pops from the background imagery.
Ruscha’s commercial art background comes out his work depicted signage. Fascinated with directional and informational signage along Route 66, he created several pieces of art reimagining.
Another prominent theme in “Word/Play” is the celebration of the blue-collar worker and everyday encounters. A prominent and iconic piece of art from the exhibit is “Clarence Jones,” a direct reference to the common laborer ac-cording to Ruscha.
“We all know a Clarence Jones,” she said. “It’s honoring this idea of the blue color person.”
Other art pieces similar to “Clarence Jones” have bold, written words depicting snippets of overheard conversation and various phrases.
The use of mountains is apparent throughout nearly all of Ruscha’s artwork. Whether it’s used as a backdrop or main subject, various mountain landscapes make consistent appearances in his work.
“Word/Play” will be at the Joslyn Art Museum through May 6. Tickets for the exhibit are $10 for general admission and $5 for college students who present ID. Children ages 17 and younger are admitted free of change.