Made from a single piece of paper, Ed Ruscha’s Rusty Signs (2014) appear to have been rusted and weathered, reading as actual patinated metals. These remarkably realistic works draw upon motifs consistent with the artist’s career: components of visual culture, the passage of time, and Americanisms. Filtered through the language of common objects, the prints read DEAD END, CASH FOR TOOLS, and FOR SALE 17 ACRES in multiple iterations, as if they came from different locations, subjected to a different set of circumstances, with strikingly naturalistic gunshots and thick layers of rust and grime. In keeping with the course of his career, Ruscha is not merely representing the image of the sign as he has in the past through his paintings and photographs of signage but actually here recreates the sign itself.
In John Baldessari’s Crowds with Shape of Reason Missing (2012), individuals gather together in formation or haphazardly while captivated by the unknown – a somewhat silly white blob. The artist removes the predominant subject of the photographic image and replaces it with the nondescript form. Baldessari chose vintage movie stills that seem at once recognizable and yet unfamiliar. With the main subject gone, the focal point is unclear, which leads us to scan the faces and actions of the crowds: soldiers, onlookers, community members, and harem girls. The viewer then focuses on the reactionary rather than the primary. The artist elucidates: “Erasure is a kind of gap. The imagery that our culture produces tends to have its own coherence and legibility, and the set of expectations that comes with that legibility can be disrupted through visual interventions.” Baldessari effectively transfixes us by barring us from the action; he forces us to reconsider the now voided narrative.
In Ed Ruscha’s Petro Plots (2001), the artist takes a selection of major Los Angeles intersections, and integrates the grid into the surface of what appears to be stone. Once again calling upon the distinct Mixografia® technique, the prints take on three-dimensional texture to deceive. The streets are named in a straightforward manner, but the texture of the handmade paper obscures the names from sight. Visually, these minimalist maps are cunning and candid.
Stockton’s energetic paintings build upon different mythologies, combining elements of Western religion with literary symbolism and historical events into a singular narrative language. These allegories are meditations upon the genesis of myth and memory. When the primary subject, a male figure comically nude except for a superhero’s cape, strides off with a naked woman slung over his shoulder, it is left unresolved whether the act is one of abduction or salvation. Unlike the singleminded crusaders of popular fiction, Stockton’s stumbling Everyman is continually caught between morality and depravity.
Each mark has been debated, questioned, and quickly painted over if found inadequate. The scarred and layered surfaces that result are an act of revealing, not hiding. Their sophistication is balanced with vulgarity, strength tied to fragility, morality tempered with corruption. De Kooning-esque surfaces slowly reveal tired, huddled masses and amorous antagonists.