Ed Ruscha's 'Extremes and In-betweens' Exhibit is in London Now, But Can Be on Your Bookshelf Soon

by Flaunt Staff


When Flaunt talked to Ed Ruscha in December 2016, we learned that he has a never-ending desire to find more material, to reach out into the world and draw inspiration from he absorbs. One of his former studio assistants even compared him to a human antenna. Now we have a new lesson from Ruscha: words work because they get away from us. There are gaps that occur when we communicate, and some part of experience does not fully transfer. People tend to overlay their association with words—their experiences—onto other’s words.

Ed Ruscha‘s latest series, Extremes and In-betweens, has exposed the inability of language to communicate by capitalizing on groups of words that can speak to a wide audience, without offering a definite way to read these “texts.” Ruscha offers his canvases as miniature poems on barren landscapes, which create the sense that words are overlaid on the ether. They help us make sense of a void, but only insofar as each individual derives meaning from them.

 Silence with Wrinkles (2016) features words that cascade as “SILENCE / ROOMTONE / WHISPER / COMMOTION / RACKET” before becoming nearly too small to read, but continuing the repetition with “COMMOTION / RACKET / PEAK VOLUME” and finally some illegible letters. Another canvas, Years Months Weeks (2016), reads (also from top to bottom) “YEARS / MONTHS / WEEKS / DAYS / HOURS / MINUTES / SECONDS.” The motif of ever-smaller words is, perhaps, a reminder of the human experience of loneliness and immortality. They seem to ask us to consider the impossibility of time, of endless silence, and of our own existence within these contexts. But Ruscha doesn’t offer any answers. He’s notorious for his “if that’s what you think” response to interpretation of his work.

Whatever Ruscha’s intention (or lack thereof), his play with language seems to be a semiotic method to expressing human experience. By leaving the interpretation open, yet instilling each artwork with a sense of infinity, Extremes and In-betweens perhaps tells us that the there’s truth in whatever we read into these paintings. Just as the words have the potential to continue off the canvas forever, the interpretations to the meaning of this series continue forever. There’s no one answer to the labyrinth of possibility Ruscha has created for us. In this sense, Extremes and In-betweens is a knowing application of semiotics to intimate experience precisely because the responsibility to find meaning rests only in the viewer.

Extremes and In-betweens is on display at London’s Gagosian, and the accompanying book is available now to pre-order. His artwork was also featured as the cover of Flaunt’s Elements issue, available on our website.


Written by: Brianna Di Monda