Judy Watson – Research Notes

During my research into aboriginal art I came across an article about Judy Watson and a description of the way that she works. A number of areas of her work resonated with me as they seemed to mirror some of the thoughts I had been having in relation to my work for Outside the Box, Part 3 of the course. These included:

  • The use of layers
  • Mapping of both an external and internal landscape
  • Using canvas in a way that is more akin to textiles

Watson is influenced by the experiences of her great-grandmother in north-west Queensland and, more widely, the life of indigenous people and the effect of colonialism on their lives. Often, she uses impressions from the actual landscape such as rubbings and incisions and includes these in her work. She also uses natural materials found in a place and colours the canvas while it is laid wet on the ground allowing this to help shape the initial layers on the canvas. Her paintings are not framed but either hung on the wall or laid on the floor.

Internal Landscape (1993) [External link – opens in a new tab]

There are a number of things that appeal to me in this painting. The gold powder in the centre is like an aerial view of a landscape. There appears to be a wash of a dark earth colour beneath this. Beside the gold, to the left, is a ghostly image of a spear associated with the Riversleigh Station where Watson’s grandmother was born. Layered across the canvas is a pattern of white ripples dotted with black. As you look more closely the idea of an aerial view fades a little and it is more like seeing objects submerged in water. The ripples become fish, or are they? Button-like circles seems to pin down the vertical edges of the canvas.

I like the subtleness of the painting and the way that Watson uses techniques from more traditional aboriginal art but in a very individual and reflective way. The different layers, of colour and objects, mean that the image seems to offer something new to consider the more that you look at it.

Deadly Bloom (1997) [External link – opens in a new tab]

This is another unframed canvas using pigment and pastel on canvas. What I like here is the free form use of the pigment and pastel and the vibrancy of the colours. This is something I would like to explore particularly in relation to work that I did for Part 2 of the course regarding stains. I have been considering how to move this forward and the ways in which Watson uses different mediums is something that I intend to explore further and experiment with.

Notes for Studio Practice

  • Consider ways to create/use layers
  • Think more about idea of external/internal landscape
  • External landscape – ways to bring this into the painting – rubbings (Dada?), using site-specific materials
  • Work with canvas more experimentally – think of it as a textile
  • Experiment with pigments, pastels and staining

Related Posts

Aboriginal Art – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/2018/05/28/aboriginal-art-research-notes/

Practical Exercise 4 – Artwork – Picnic – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/outside-the-box/practical-exercise-4-artwork-picnic/

Practical Exercise 1 – Stains – Initial Exploration – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/honing-in/practical-exercise-1-stains-initial-exploration/


Watson, J. (1993) Internal Landscape. [Painting] At: http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/216.1994/ (Accessed on 06.06.18)

Watson, J. (1997) Deadly Bloom. [Painting] At: http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/209.2011/ (Accessed on 06.06.18)


Willsteed, T. (ed.) (2004). Tradition Today: Indigenous Art in Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Aboriginal Art – Research Notes

Sketch of picnic from childhood sketchbook

Sketch of picnic from childhood sketchbook

My ideas for this part of the course have centred around a sketchbook that I created as a child. One image that appealed to me was of a picnic with four people sitting around a picnic cloth with something of an aerial view.

The sketch reminded me of paintings by aboriginal artists which have an aerial viewpoint and I began to think more widely about ways to work with the sketchbook. Some of that thinking, such as physically recreating some of the sketchbook scenes in the garden, led me to the work of Ian Kiaer and I also realised that the sketchbook revealed an inner landscape showing some of the things that had appealed to or mattered to me as a child.

Research into aboriginal art, originally because I was thinking of aerial viewpoints, has given me more aspects to explore in relation to the idea of an inner landscape. These notes focus on various elements of the paintings that I want to explore through the practical exercises for this part of the course and include:

The idea of the painting as a map and the use of sign systems

Aboriginal paintings can be seen as maps of land but the concept cannot be taken too literally. Features of the landscapes are not necessarily strict representations of a specific geographical location. Different elements often have a mythological rather than geographical depiction, depicting the Dreamtime ancestors who created the land. A wide-ranging system of symbols create a sign system which can be read as a visual language which has as much variation and nuance as any written language.

Different regions have their own representational systems but most include both figurative and geometric forms and these are often used in combination. Figures added to paintings are often out of scale with the geometric motifs.

Signs can be linear, curvilinear, circular or U-shaped. Dots and cross-hatching are also used. The shape of a sign relates to its meaning so the most appropriate shape will be chosen depending on what is to be communicated.

The circle and line are key elements. The circle has a wide range of meaning but often refers to places in the landscape and is associated with places visited by the ancestors.

Lines and other linear motifs often have varied meanings. In combination with a circle or footprints they can represent tracks. The circle-line can also show connections between individuals and family groups.

Varying the viewpoints, scale and orientation

Viewpoint also has to be taken into consideration. A person viewed from above could be shown as a circle, if they are seated the symbol could be U-shaped and if they are standing the sign could be a straight line.

Paintings are frequently produced on the ground with the artist adding elements as he moves around it. This means that there may not be a specific orientation for the painting. Different sections of the same painting may have their own geography with differences in scale and viewpoint. The scale may relate to the significance of an event rather than the physical scale of a landscape.

The mythological perspective and the portrayal of a journey

Landscape paintings in aboriginal art can show vast tracts of territory or focus on a specific place. They can represent the journeys of the ancestors but can also show journeys and scenes from contemporary society.

Often paintings will have an underlying geometric structure. More complex layers of meaning can be shown by the use of physical layers of paint and techniques such as the use of dots or cross-hatching.

Yuutjutiyungu by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, (1979) [External link – opens in a new tab]

In a painting such as Yuutjutiyungu by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, several layers can be seen. Geometric elements such as the circle, U-shape and straight line represent particular ancestors or locations and these are viewed, through clouds, as if seen from above. At different levels the circle, which is a significant motif in aboriginal paintings, represents clouds, the sites of honey ants or, below the surface, the honey ants nest.

Jamirlangu (Husband and Wife) by Mona Chuguna and Pijaju Peter Skipper [External link – opens in new tab]

This painting was created jointly by husband and wife Mona Chuguna and Pijaju Peter Skipper and shows their first meeting at the waterhole of Wayampajarti Jila. This is an example of a more localised and contemporary landscape than that of Yuutjutiyunga and has a brighter palette of earth colours. Symbols create the underlying structure and different perspectives are used with the flattened perspective of the trees and aerial view of the waterhole.

Each painting represents the different approaches to landscape that can be found in aboriginal art. This can vary from a vast sweep of land to specific locations and within this, in the representations of the ancestors, what we are shown is not just physical space but the passage of time and its relevance to the present day.

The relationship between places is, again, not necessarily physical but can demonstrate the social identity of the artist and the kinship groups to which they belong.


Chuguna, M. and Skipper, P. Jamirlangu. (s.d) [Painting] At: http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/detail.cfm?irn=127993 (Accessed on 21.05.18]

Possum Tjapaltjarri, C. (1979) Yuutjutiyungu [Painting] At: http://mdid3.gwu.edu/data/record/8646/r-2839183/?fieldset=8 (Accessed on 21.05.18)

Related Posts

Practical Exercise 4 – Artwork – Picnic – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/outside-the-box/practical-exercise-4-artwork-picnic/

Ian Kiaer and Joel Shapiro – Research Notes – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/2018/05/03/ian-kiaer-and-joel-shapiro-research-notes/


Morphy, H. (1998) Aboriginal Art. London: Phaidon Press Ltd.

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CAC Málaga, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo of Málaga
6 October 2017 – 7 January 2018

This exhibition of the work of Galician born artist Francisco Leiro (1957 – ) highlighted more than 40 of his drawings and sculptures.

Within this exhibition of his work were a number of sculptures which reminded me of medieval sculpture and carvings by Modigliani. There was the obvious aspect of the use of polychromed wood but also a quieter, spiritual quality even in works where the figures seemed absorbed in their own animation. This may come from a Galician tradition that has a comfortable, even celebratory, relationship with death.

Lázaros (various dates) [External links – opens in new tab]

One such exhibit was the Lázaros (Lazaruses) made up of fifteen small, wall mounted coffins. For each one a small figure was attempting to either get into, or out of, the coffin. These were grouped around one of the largest works in the exhibition, a large figure of the Celtic god Lugh (2010), depicted by Leiro with three heads. This figure is roughly hewn and the marks in the wood, along with the red stain of colour, gave a carcass-like quality to the exhibit.

The stillness of the figure was emphasised by the surrounding figures in the small coffins. Like figures in a medieval frieze they were oblivious to the gaze of gallery visitors. Whether sitting on the side braced to lower themselves in, bending forwards supporting the coffin lid on their backs or pushing the lid upwards they were each absorbed in the task of getting out of, or into, their respective coffins. Apart, that is, from the figure who was nailing the coffin shut which begged the question as to who, or what (if anything) was inside.

Despite all the activity there was something curiously calming about the figures. Perhaps it was their absorption in the task, or the lighting which threw strong shadows onto the walls as if in a church or cathedral. The result, I felt, was like being at the eye of the storm and able to witness, but be apart from, all the surrounding activity.

Notes for studio practice

  • Think about scale and lighting – the large figure in this group is, in some ways, upstaged by the small figures that surround him.
  • Rough quality and staining of the wood – think of this in terms of painting – how could this be replicated?


Leiro F. (s.d) Lázaros [Polychrome wood sculpture] At: http://cacmalaga.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/leiro05.jpg (Accessed on 18.06.18)

Related Posts

Polychrome Sculpture – Research Notes – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/2017/04/03/polychrome-sculpture/

Amedeo Modigliani – Research Notes – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/2017/04/21/amedeo-modigliani-research-notes/

Practical Exercise 3 – Recreation of Sketchbook Scenes – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/outside-the-box/practical-exercise-3-recreation-sketchbook-scenes/


Centro de Arte Contemporáneo of Málaga (2017) Leiro. At:  http://cacmalaga.eu/2017/10/06/leiro/  (Accessed on 18.06.18)

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Ian Kiaer and Joel Shapiro – Research Notes

‘Ian Kiaer’s miniature landscapes of eclectic objects are like stepping inside the mind of an eccentric scholar’. This description in The Guardian appealed to me particularly as the work that I was doing for this part of the course was leading me in the direction of, potentially, miniature landscapes or, at least, scenes that I was going to create based on childhood drawings.

At first, in looking at Kiaer’s work I was unsure of how to respond. At first glance you are looking at a collection of seemingly random objects. Many appear to be found or discarded items and it can be hard to tell if there has been much interaction with the pieces by the artist.

Further research showed that in creating these vignettes Kiaer often takes references from the past and present and sets up a variety of items to highlight what can seem to be random associations.

Brueghel Project/Casa Malaparte, (1999) [External link – opens with new tab]

As an example, Brueghel Project/Casa Malaparte is described on the Tate website as a tableau. This collection objects connects Pieter Brueghel the Elder living in the 16th century and Curzio Malaparte and Italian poet living in the 20th century.

The objects making up the scene include an artist’s canvas, a stool, a balsa wood model, foam, cardboard and artificial moss. At first glance the connections are not clear until you read the description of the exhibit. The painting references The Procession of Calvary (1564) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. From that scene, of Christ carrying the cross towards Calvary, Kiaer has excluded the crowd of figures that Bruegel depicts. Instead he focuses on a crag, with a windmill perched on top, that is in the top-third of the composition and placed a little to the left of centre. The stool with the small balsa wood house on top of it represents the home of Curzio Malaparte which is located on the top of a high cliff on the isle of Capri.

If I had been relying only on what I could see, with no knowledge of the references used, I think I would have been inclined to use the windmill painting as the reference point and, perhaps, made the association with the stool and the small house on top of that. Whether or not I would have connected the blue-painted cube of foam with the sea I’m not sure. Other physical links I could have made, without context, would have been in the palette used where the pale blue and ochres link the painting not only with the stool and foam but also the floor of the gallery. Another possible association could have been the location of the buildings. There is a sense of isolation. Are the inhabitants of the buildings, if any, keeping themselves apart to feel safe, to keep themselves isolated from the outside world or to try and control it. Are they all-seeing or not seeing?

There are interesting questions here. Without knowledge of the references what does the work mean? With knowledge of the references what does the work mean? The viewer, either way, can bring something to the work, their own experiences and associations. In making the associations what does Kiaer want us to consider? There is a lot to think about.

Other aspects of Kiaer’s work that I would like to explore further are his experiments with scale. He often uses small-scale architectural models in his work or juxtaposes large and small items within the same scene. This effects not only the composition of the scene but also the relationship of the viewer to those objects. Larger items can dwarf the human figure putting the viewer in a place of subordination while smaller items create a sense of domination. Without seeing the works in situ, it is hard to know how this would affect your response.

Untitled: House on Shelf (1974) [External link – opens with new tab]

Reading about Kiaer’s work with small-scale models I came across a reference to Joel Shapiro. Shapiro’s early work in the 1970s revolved around drawing, painting and small scale-sculpture including miniature houses. As a family we are in the process of clearing the family home so a lot of my thoughts at this time are around that. Shapiro’s small-scale sculptures of houses and household objects resonated with me because of this. He intended the work to stimulate an emotional response with viewers through their associations and memories of familiar objects. Again, the sense of scale may add to this with adults looking at something child-like in size that has echoes of childhood toys. In addition, I was interested in how Shapiro presented these small-scale works. Some were displayed on the floor of the gallery where the viewer would have to look down on them or come down to their level. Others were installed on shelves projected from the wall at eye-level, again affecting the relationship between the viewer and the object.

There are elements of Kiaer and Shapiro’s work that I would like to explore in greater depth through the exercises in this part of the course. These include:

  • Consideration of scale – the relationship of the viewer to the object
  • The association of objects – consideration of the connections between objects – memories of them? Who they belonged to? Where they were kept? How they were used?
  • The presentation and relationship of objects – the composition of the objects, what difference does this make to how the viewer sees and interacts with them?

Related posts

Outside the Box – Developing the Theme of Ageing – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/outside-the-box/outside-the-box-developing-the-theme-of-ageing/

Practical Exercise 3 – Recreation of Scenes from Sketchbook – Skyscraper – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/outside-the-box/practical-exercise-3-recreation-of-sketchbook-scenes-skyscraper/


Bruegel, P. (1564) The Procession to Calvary [Painting] At: http://www.wikiart.org/en/pieter-bruegel-the-elder/christ-carrying-the-cross-1564 (Accessed on 03.05.18]

Kiaer, I. (1999) Brueghel Project/Casa Malaparte [Installation] At: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/kiaer-brueghel-project-casa-malaparte-t12874 (Accessed on 03.05.18)

Metropolitan Museum of Art (2001) Joel Shapiro on the Roof At: http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2001/joel-shapiro Accessed on 03.05.18)

Sherwin: S. (2009) ‘Artist of the Week 68: Ian Kiaer’ In: The Guardian [online] At: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/dec/23/artist-ian-kiaer (Accessed on 03.05.2018)

Shapiro, J. (1974) Untitled: House on Shelf At: http://www.moma.org/collection/works/81409 (Accessed on 03.05.18)

Wise, M.Z. (2013) Part Palace, Part Temple, Part Prison: On the Casa Malaparte In: Los Angeles Review of Books At: http://lareviewofbooks.org/article/part-palace-part-temple-part-prison-on-the-casa-malaparte/ (Accessed on 03.05.18)

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The Essence of Place – Susannah Ramsay

The Essence of Place,
21st October 2017, RSPB Loch Lomond

When I bought tickets for The Essence of Place it was on a bright and breezy day in September. The event was advertised as an outdoor audio-visual installation and, given that Part 3 of the course is about Post-Studio working, it seemed like a great opportunity to be involved in something which encompassed a lot of ideas that I had been reading and researching over the past few months. It was a chance to participate in an event, at a site-specific location involving visual images and the spoken word.

Things seemed a little different as we stood in the car park of Ross Priory on a very wet, windy night in October. Along with another half dozen or so participants we sheltered under the RSPB gazebo waiting for the mini-bus which would take us the short distance to the nearby RSPB reserve. Part of me was wishing I had stayed in for Strictly but in the spirit of being part of the experience we stayed waiting in the rain.

After a short bus ride, we arrived at The Hub on the RSPB reserve. One of the volunteers directed us towards a candle lit path. We were to follow the path through the woods to a place where a short filmpoem would be shown on a large screen.

As the light from The Hub disappeared amongst the trees the chat with those around us faded. The need to concentrate on making your way in the darkness honed the senses. Gradually, what had seemed like silence separated into layers of sound, feet on the wet leaves, the gurgling of a small burn running under the path, the spattering of water from the leaves and branches of the trees.

At regular intervals a flicker of torchlight revealed a volunteer waiting in the darkness to confirm that you were still on the right path. Ahead, the candle lit edges of the path traced out the route, leading your eye through the trees to the first glimpse of the screen in the distance. It reminded me of Hinterland, an event we had gone to at St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross. That had also involved a torch lit walk through the woods and, as you walked, you glimpsed through the trees coloured light playing across the walls of the seminary and music playing. There had been a sense then, as now, of pilgrimage, of coming to the end of something and not being sure of the outcome.

The path moved out of the woods into a flat, wide area with a large screen positioned to the left of the path. A five-minute filmpoem was playing on a loop with images taken from scenes filmed over the course of a year in the National Park. Over this a poem was being read. The words had a haunting quality with the repeated refrain of ‘Here is where I am’. As the poem develops the repetition of the phrase gives a sense of loss, of the need for someone who has gone and the need to, somehow, have them with you again. It also resonates with a very human need, in overwhelming times, to just stop and acknowledge, this is where I am.

As the film finished there was silence and complete attention from everyone standing in the darkness and the rain, which had been so relentless, had faded to a soft smirr.

The event was the work of Susannah Ramsay as part her doctoral research exploring the phenomenological potential of the filmpoem. Phenomenology studies our subjective experience and relationship with the world. The brief of the RSPB, who had commissioned the work, was to bring a new audience to the reserve and raise the wider concerns of conservation.

The filmpoem itself combines poetry and cinematic techniques to create an experience that shows a particular intimacy with the subject matter. The concept of the film was to explore both a physical space and what we as individuals bring to that place in terms of our associations and memories.

I found the experience very moving. Trying to explain the experience to other people afterwards wasn’t easy. After all, a walk in the woods on a cold, wet night can be hard to sell as a way to spend a Saturday evening. But that is the point, it is something that has to be experienced, and no two people involved would have the same thoughts about it.

Around this time, I was working on ideas for this part of the course and just starting to formulate ideas for developing the theme of ageing. I was able to speak to Susannah Ramsay who was there to talk to participants about their experience and mentioned that I was thinking of a project that would be based outdoors and around memories. In the brief time we had to chat her advice was to plan, plan and plan and to know why you are doing the project, advice that I will keep in mind as it can be too easy to focus on a deadline and lose sight of why you are doing the work.

Related Posts

Outside the Box – Developing the theme of Ageing – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/outside-the-box/outside-the-box-developing-the-theme-of-ageing/ (Accessed 25.03.18)


NVA Public Art. http://nva.org.uk/artwork/hinterland/ (Accessed on 26.04.18)

Ramsay, S. http://www.susannahramsay.co.uk/ (Accessed on 30.03.18)

Ramsay, S. (s.d) ‘Filmpoetry and Phenomenology’ In: Poetryfilmlive.com [online] At: http://poetryfilmlive.com/articles/filmpoetry-and-phenomenology-by-susannah-ramsay/ (Accessed on 25.03.18)

RSPB Loch Lomond. http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/loch-lomond/ (Accessed on 30.03.18)


Posted in Exhibitions | Leave a comment

Earth Art – Research Notes

Earth art, also known as land art or earth works is a largely American movement that developed in the late 1960s and early into the 1970s. The main elements were working with the natural landscape, developing site-specific structures, art forms and sculptures. Earth art was influenced by minimalism, conceptualism, the environmental movement and was a reaction against the art market and its focus on art as a commodity.

From minimalism, earth art favoured the ideas of monumentality and simplicity. Earth artists were also influenced by the Arte Povera movement in their use of everyday materials. The work of Joseph Beuys with its focus on performance and creativity in any environment also appealed.

In terms of materials earth artists favoured materials from nature such as stones, water, gravel and soil. The idea of ephemerality was also significant. Artworks were created in site-specific locations, often using materials from the site, and left to degrade. Creating work in this way put it, literally, outside the confines and controlled atmospheres of museums and galleries. The sites were often in far-flung locations making it difficult for anyone to view which in itself questioned the idea of who art was produced for and did it need to be seen to be a work of art.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a number of concurrent art movements and many artists worked in more than one style. Minimalism emphasised the object in space, interaction and simplicity of form. This, and elements of Post-Minimalism, such as the documentation and process of the creation of the work, installation and performance elements also fed into Earth Art.

Robert Smithson began his career as a painter moving from figurative abstractions to more geometrical forms. In 1966, he began to exhibit with the Virginia Dwan gallery as well as creating plans for Aerial Art at Dallas Fort Worth airport. The concept, of viewing art from above, did not come to fruition but inspired Smithson, Carl Andre, Nancy Holt, Robert Morris and Michael Heizer to explore unexploited areas of land in New Jersey and in the western states.

In 1968, the Earth Works exhibition showed the documentation for some of these projects by artists including Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris, Claes Oldenburg, Dennis Oppenheim and Stephen Kaltenbach. The show traced the conception of their work through maps, photographs, transparencies and drawings. Ironically, given their move against galleries, it was through exhibitions such as these that the artists could gain interest and funding for the actual fruition of the project. Given the difficulty in accessing sites or the fact that some could only be viewed from a private plane they were also accused of elitism.
In 1969, exhibition of Earth Art at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University. Works were displayed both in the museum and throughout the campus grounds.  Artists included Smithson, Morris, Heizer, Walter de Maria and Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Long and Hans Haacke.

Smithson used the terms ‘Site’ and ‘Nonsite’ to define the differences in the physical context of the work  produced. Nonsite was an ‘indoor earthwork’ and was a piece of work which could be shown in a gallery setting, displacing natural materials from the original sites with accompanying drawings and photographs. Site referred to works created outside the gallery in site-specific locations with materials taken from that location.
These ideas coupled with the activist mentality of the 1960s influenced some artists to create a more socially engaged art that considered the relationship of humans with the land. For many a move away from Greenberg’s modernist idea of art’s lack of connection to the mundane world.

Earth artists were influenced by prehistoric and ancient monuments that were monumental in scale and size. Such monuments, just by existing, showed the passage of time through decay and natural erosion. The entropy of the materials, both manmade and organic was integral to Earthworks. Decay and disintegration were part of their meaning.
Earthworks sometimes divided into those that make great changes to the land and those that do not. Those requiring earth-moving equipment would fall into the former category while Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking (1967) and works by Andy Goldsworthy into the latter.

The recession in the 1970s affected Earth Art funding. Smithson died in 1973 Artists such as De Maria, Heizer, Morris and Andre took their careers in different directions moving back into gallery spaces and there was a new period that favoured installations over discrete objects. Conceptualism became dominant during this period as different movements began to share ideas. Post-Minimalist movements such as Process Art were strongly connected to Earth Art and artists working between the movements moved towards the gallery model. Conceptual Art often included performance that worked in galleries and, like Earth art, challenged the notions of art as a commodity because of its transitory nature. Organic materials were sometimes used in the gallery space and emphasis on ephemerality was understood through site-specific and temporary installations.

Related pages

The Art Story. (s.d.) Earth Art. At: http://www.theartstory.org/movement-earth-art.htm(Accessed on 30.03.18)

The Art Story. (s.d.) Conceptual  Art. At: http://www.theartstory.org/movement-conceptual-art.htm (Accessed on 30.03.18)

The Art Story. (s.d) Robert Smithson: American Sculptor and Writer. At: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-smithson-robert.htm (Accessed on30.03.18)

Tsai, E. (1991) Robert Smith Unearthed: Drawings, Collages, Writings. New York: Columbia University Press.

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Ed Ruscha – Research Notes

Edward Ruscha (1937 – ) is often associated with Pop Art and Conceptual Art but continues to steer his own course in the art world, maintaining an individual approach and continually exploring different materials and techniques.

In the course of a wide-spanning career he has become known for developing his own approach to a number of key concepts:

  •  Text
  •  Books and Photographs
  •  Unconventional Materials


The use of text within artworks became more prevalent with the work of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963) as they developed Cubism and began to paint letters and text onto the surface or use ‘found’ text from newspapers and everyday ephemera. Dadaism also focused on language, and the manipulation of language, often using this in a humorous way to make a point about art and society at that time.

Ruscha uses a number of themes in his approach focusing on individual letters, single words, appropriating advertising slogans or everyday catch phrases and language. Something as simple as a single letter can take on different meanings and nuances if the shape, font, sound and style is changed.

Books and Photographs

The concept of Livres d’artistes or artist’s books was traditionally associated with an object that would be a limited edition, luxurious and available to a limited number of people. Ruscha turned this concept on its head by taking photographs of everyday scenes, gas stations, urban wasteland, swimming pools and car parks and producing artists’ books which were cheaply produced. There is often wry humour in the titles. The book ‘Real Estate Opportunities’, from 1970, contains photographs of empty lots captioned by their location.

The format of the books, the use of structure, serial imagery and a focus on the mundane are characteristics of conceptual art.


In 1969, Ruscha produced a portfolio entitled Stains. This consisted of seventy-five works on paper created using everyday materials including egg yolk, turpentine, beans, apple juice, salad dressing and gunpowder. Throughout the 1970s Ruscha continued to experiment with everyday substances as an alternative to more conventional artists’ materials.

Influence of Ruscha’s Work

For this module, I am exploring the theme of ageing and, as part of the practical exercises, am focusing on the stains produced by foodstuffs. This idea came from my own experience over the past few years of helping to care for elderly members of the family. Increasing frailty can lead to difficulties with eating. Elderly hands may not be able to grip cups or use cutlery easily resulting in spillage and the distress of realising your limitations. I wanted to use the idea of stains as a way of exploring this theme.

Apple Juice (Tree Top Pure) from Stains, (1969) [External link – opens in new tab]

What I like about Ruscha’s approach is the scientific focus which he seems to apply to the exploration of materials. This is evident from the titles. It is not just apple juice but a specific brand of apple juice. The Stains portfolio was made up of foodstuffs and everyday liquids on paper but Ruscha also experimented by staining different types of material.

Pure Ecstasy, (1974) [External link – opens in new tab]

Pure Ecstasy brings together a number of elements used by Ruscha, text, material and everyday food. Ruscha used a range of material for his supports. These included moiré silk, satin, rayon crepe and waterfall rayon.

Aims in Relation to Practical Exercises

I want to explore these ideas – the use of foodstuffs and material – as one aspect of the theme of ageing. My focus will be to use this to explore what it means to lose the ability to grip a cup or use cutlery and find yourself constantly spilling food and liquid and how vulnerable this makes you feel.

As part of the exercise I want to:

  •  Explore the effect of different foodstuffs on a range of supports including watercolour paper, canvas and clothing.
  •  From this experimentation, I would like to create more developed pieces which explore this further.

Related Posts

Practical Exercise 1 – Stains – Initial Exploration – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/honing-in/practical-exercise-1-stains-initial-exploration/


Ruscha, E. (1969) Apple Juice (Tree Top Pure) from Stains [Mixed Media] At: http://www.moma.org/collection/works/62709?locale=en (Accessed on 02.09.17)

Ruscha, E. (1974) Pure Ecstasy [Mixed Media] At: http://vanabbemuseum.nl/en/collection/details/collection/?lookup%5B1673%5D%5Bfilter%5D%5B0%5D=id%3AC1244 (Accessed on 02.09.17)


The Art Story (s.d.) ‘Ed Ruscha: Painter, Photographer, Draughtsman and Conceptual Artist’ In: theartstory.com [online] At: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-ruscha-ed.htm (Accessed on 01.09.17)

Artist Rooms (s.d.) ‘Ed Ruscha Resource Pack’ In: artistrooms.org [online] At: http://www.artistrooms.org/artists/ed-ruscha (Accessed 03.09.17)

Schjeldahl, P. (1992) Edward Ruscha Stains 1971-1975. New York: Robert Miller Gallery

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