Artist Rooms: Music from the Balconies – Ed Ruscha and Los Angeles

Artist Rooms: Music from the Balconies – Ed Ruscha and Los Angeles
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh
Until 29th April 2018

I have been researching the work of Ed Ruscha for this module, particularly in relation to using everyday materials as a substitute for more conventional artists’ materials. This exhibition in Edinburgh was a chance to consider some of the other themes that are significant within his work including artists’ books, trademarks, text and cinema.

I focused on a number of exhibits which I felt offered ideas which I could experiment with in some way including artists’ books and techniques used in the reworking of previous work.

Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles, 1967 [External link – opens in new tab]

This was one of a series of ‘Bookworks’ or photobooks produced by Ruscha. The traditional idea of the ‘Livres d’artistes’ or artists’ books was of luxurious, limited editions that were objects of desire with a limited circulation. Ruscha subverted this idea by using a simple format which was cheaply produced and consisted of mundane photography of everyday objects. Ruscha found that the “…book had inexplicable thing I was looking for, and that was a kind of ‘Huh’. That’s all I’ve always worked around. All it is a device to disarm somebody with my particular message”.

Pool Series, 1968/1997 [External link – opens in new tab]

Photographs from the Pool Series were taken from his photobook Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass from 1968. This was the first series which experimented with colour. Views of deserted swimming pools in LA. Again, Ruscha subverted the idea of the pools being associated with sun and glamour in the way they are in works by David Hockney. Pools were viewed from elevated positions, sometime side-on or cropped giving the impression that they being viewed from a security camera. The photos were taken with a lightweight portable camera adding to the ‘style-less’ approach which was a trait of 1960s Conceptual Art.

Greenblatt’s Deli (Sunset Strip Portfolio) 1976/1995 [External link – opens in new tab]

Ruscha returned to this in 1995 and altered the negatives using razor blades and sandpaper to signal passing of time. Lines also suggest the scratches found on old cinema films.

Honk, 1962 [External link – opens in new tab]

A significant theme of Ruscha’s work is the use of text, often single words or phrases drawn from popular culture and slang. This appropriation of everyday language linked to idea of using ‘found objects’ common in Pop Art at the time. In Honk, Ruscha conveys the sound of the car through visual means reminding me of Arthur Dove’s Foghorns from 1929 where Dove used shape and colour to convey the sound of the foghorns.

Notes for Studio Practice

There are number of ideas within the exhibition which I would like to explore further and experiment with:

  • The concept of artists’ book or photobooks, particularly the idea of taking mundane subjects.
  • Altering photographs, something done by Gerhard Richter using paint but here Ruscha aggressively alters the surface to suggest age and the passing of time.
  • The idea of representing sound visually.


Dove, A. (1929) Foghorns [Painting] At: (Accessed on 12.09.17)

Ruscha, E. (1962) Honk [Painting] At: (Accessed on 12.09.17)

Ruscha, E. (1967) Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles [Artist’s Book] At: Accessed on 12.09.17)

Ruscha, E. (1968) Pool #6 [Photograph] At: on 12.09.17)

Ruscha, E. (1976) Greenblatt’s Deli (Sunset Strip Portfolio) [Photograph] At: (Accessed on 12.09.17)

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NOW: Nathan Coley, Louise Hopkins, Pete Horobin, Tessa Lynch, Rivane Neuenschwander, Tony Swain and others.

NOW: Nathan Coley, Louise Hopkins, Pete Horobin, Tessa Lynch, Rivane Neuenschwander, Tony Swain and others.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh
Until 24th September 2017

NOW is a new programme of contemporary art exhibitions which will be held at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh over the next three years. The aim of the programme is to showcase the diversity of contemporary artistic practice and the role of artists in society.

This could be seen in the exhibits which ranged from painting and photographs through to installations and sculpture. Other elements included using found and printed material, working with language, installations and making the familiar seem unfamiliar.

Having visited the gallery to see the Ed Ruscha exhibition I had only a limited time to look around the NOW exhibition. I decided to focus on artwork which had an immediate appeal for me and which I could relate to the reading and research for postmodernism in this module of the course.

Louise Hopkins

Louise Hopkins and Tony Swain both use everyday materials as the surface for their paintings and both utilise printed material to inform their work. Hopkins uses a variety of materials including photographs, fabrics, maps and pages from books.

Tony Swain

Tony Swain paints on newspaper creating landscapes with a dreamlike, surreal quality. I liked the way that he works around elements on the printed page sometimes leaving colour photographs or text exposed. This takes the idea of working with ephemera and the printed word and turns it on its head by not merely incorporating such material into the artwork but actually using it as the support. It also raises questions about the longevity and value of a work created on newsprint and for Swain there is also consideration of the role that chance plays in creating a work.

“For me, the creative process is at its most potent when it is a negotiation between what is willed and what happens involuntarily. If you are over-controlling, you are merely closing down the possibilities of what painting can give you and where it can take you.” [Guardian Online, 20.09.09]

Tessa Lynch

Having done some reading around the concept of psychogeography I would like to revisit the ideas in the work Wave Machine, 2016 by Tessa Lynch. The exhibit is made up of an installation, photographs and transcript of a Skype conversation around the idea of the ‘flâneuse’, the female equivalent of the flaneur who walks and observes city streets.

Notes for Studio Practice

My time was limited at this exhibition but there are some ideas I’d like to think about and explore:

  • Using different materials for support – experimenting with more day-to-day materials including photographs, newspapers and fabrics.
  • The idea of the flâneuse and think of this in relation to Ed Ruscha’s artists’ book.


Louise Hopkins, At: (Accessed on 07.09.17)

Tessa Lynch, At: (Accessed on 07.09.17)

Tony Swain, At: (Accessed on 07.09.17)

Swain, T. (2009) ‘Artist Tony Swain on how he paints.’ In: The Guardian 20.09.09 [online] At: (Accessed on 09.09.17)

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I am in the process of rethinking my art practice as this is something which, between studying for a Level 1 creative writing module and family commitments, has slipped in the past year.

Based on feedback from my tutor I am aware that this something I need to radically rethink. One aspect which I have struggled with is the use of sketchbooks. My problem with this is how to do it in such a way that I am authentically working with sketchbooks as part of my practice but also producing something which would make sense to assessors. The issue is not keeping a sketchbook as such but how to effectively document and evidence what I am working on.

I’ve been doing some reading around this and found a useful post on the We Are OCA blog. Below are bullet points of some of the ideas which struck a chord with me and my aims for using them within my own practice.

  •  Have a range of sketchbooks – possibly one for main ideas and development and smaller sketchbooks to focus on specific aspects of work.
  •  Label sections which relate to specific projects – this helps with assessment.
  •  Work on loose pages and sew together at later date – this helps to document process in an ordered manner.

These ideas have helped me to rethink my approach. I am going to experiment with the combination of a larger sketchbook and smaller ones which focus on specific aspects of my work. I’m also going to try using loose pages as showing the journey involved in creating a particular piece has concerned me.

  •  Use sketchbook to explore materials -sketchbook should be more focused on exploring practical techniques with some written notes about key points.
  •  Collect/create imagery related to your ideas
  •  Write about texture, scale, colour, method, form, tone and composition – in relation to artist research and your own work.
  •  Use different mediums – this makes you look at a subject in a different way.
  •  Include what has interested and intrigued you.
  •  Observe, reflect and invent (repeat).
  •  Show your bad work as well as good – make notes on how to improve weaker areas.

Something else I have struggled with is the relationship of the learning log to the sketchbook. For the first assignment in this course I used an A4 sketchbook which became more of a project book and, between that and the blog, I seemed to be duplicating a lot of research.

My focus for Assignment 2 is to use the sketchbook as a visual map of my approach to the themes I’m interested in. More detailed or contextual research will go onto the blog.

  • To create structure in a sketch book – mind map and make notes of initial ideas.
  • Consider themes – work with themes that interest you.
  • Research artists – show examples of work that appeals/relates to themes. Discuss process, content, materials used. Make notes on relationship with your own work.

This has been helpful as I have felt, at times, that I needed some kind of structure but this seemed to be counter intuitive with the idea of a sketchbook as a place to get down all your ideas. The idea of working with a theme based on my own interests is also going to help with integrating the coursework into my own practice, something that I discussed with my tutor after Assignment 1.

  • Stop and step back – once you worked on ideas it is important to reflect on and evaluate your work.
  • Use learning log to evaluate process – critically reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t.

Again, this has been useful in highlighting that difference between the sketchbook and the learning log and I’ll be trying out a different approach ongoing to ensure that the work of one feeds into the other and avoids undue duplication.

Related Posts

Assignment 1: Feedback and Response –


Harvey, P. (2017) ‘Keeping Sketchbooks’ In: 30.08.17 [online] At: (Accessed on 04.09.17))


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Studio Practice – Notes

In feedback for Assignment 1 of this course my tutor made a number of suggestions in relation to developing a more robust and sustained studio practice. These included:

  •  Creating a more independent way of working
  •  Consider exercises part of my creative practice, not separate from it
  •  Be speculative – build exercises into how I work
  •  Take control of the exercises – bend them, be exploratory – make the exercises my own
  •  Consider other ways to work with the material
  •  Work, currently, doesn’t excite the visual imagination. It is too ordered/structured.
  •  Consider mediums, themes to explore and artists that influence my progress.
  •  Consider more what materials I are going to use
  •  Work submitted small – try to work on larger scale
  •  Work even if I reach a dead end – something will have been learned
  •  Continually question my assumptions about everything
  •  Be open to influences
  •  Have ambition to progress

I have been struggling to keep momentum going for the first part of the course. Some of this is due to trying to balance coursework with other things going on in my life but I am also aware of the step up in the approach required from Level 1 of the course to this, my first module at Level 2.

My last course for Level 1 was a creative writing module and I realise that, in working on the writing module, the routine that I developed for painting at Level 1 has slipped. There is now a necessity of not only re-establishing this but, literally, taking it to a new level.

This feels daunting, still does, but I have been doing some research and reading specifically around studio practice and, from this, want to consider my own approach to this. My aim in doing this is not to be overly prescriptive but to give myself some flexible guidelines to work with and see how this works in practice.

Below are some notes, from the sources listed below, which I’m going to be thinking about, along with the tutor’s suggestions, ongoing.

  •  Turn up and start to work – let the brain follow the body
  •  Look upon it as physical exercise like running – you need to put in the hours to build up strength.
  •  Think of practice as a ritual – can be methodical or even mindless, mechanical
  •  To start choose period of time – say ten minutes – that seems easy for you and draw or paint for that time only.
  •  Choose something that gets you going, not necessarily something difficult.
  •  Start to focus over longer periods – putting in practice.
  •  Keep track of time that you work – lets you see what you can do in that time.
  •  Consistency is what counts – getting into work space and doing something.
  •  Think of it as activity – don’t worry about ideas as these will come.
  •  Establish a regular routine of looking at works of a high standard.
  •  Place your work into literal proximity of great works – makes you consider the   structural, formal, technical and other limitations in your own pieces.
  •  Read to gain greater understanding.
  •  Consider what skills you have and don’t have and take steps to develop current skills or acquire new ones.
  •  Be prepared to put your work forward for criticism and act on it.
  •  Think of behaviours as a loop that feed into one another.


Related Posts

Assignment 1: Feedback and Response –


A 6 Point Plan for Self-Directed Study in Art & Design, Episode 38 [online] Pres. Earls. (2017) 5.09 mins At: (Accessed on 26.08.2017)

Dunnewold, J. (2016) Creative Strength Training: Prompts, Exercises and Personal Stories for Encouraging Artistic Genius. Blue Ash, Ohio: North Light Books

How to Become Very Artistically Focused [online] Pres. Porter. (2013) 34.26 mins At: (Accessed on 26.08.2017)


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The Dadaist Manifesto was written in 1918 but the movement’s origins were earlier, in 1916, as artists began to react against the society they felt had led them into the First World War.

Hugo Ball founded the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1916. Operating as a night club and art society it soon became a meeting place for artists seeking new ways of expression against what they saw as a redundant, materialistic society. The movement was named ‘Dada’ from the French, meaning hobby horse.

With the end of the war in 1918 the original group of artists moved on and Dadaism became established in Paris, Berlin, Cologne and New York. Known for its use of irony in challenging accepted norms Dadaism itself suffered from the irony of the art world being dependent on the materialistic society it wished to undermine.

In 1918, Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) issued the Dadaist Manifesto. Dadaism wished to discredit the more traditional approaches to art and, perhaps because of this there was no specific Dada style. They used ‘gestures’, where artists would interrupt or stage events, as a means of highlighting and acting out their approach. The main aims were to provoke both critics and the public, to challenge traditional views of taste in art and to be more liberated in their own approach to creating artworks. This included exploring more ‘automatic’ ways in the creation of artwork in order to bypass the conscious mind.

Untitled (Collage with Squares Arranged according to the Laws of Chance), 1916-17 by Jean (Hans) Arp [External Link]

Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966) was an artist and poet. He used collage to explore ways to access the unconscious mind. This included throwing torn scraps of paper into the air and pasting them down wherever they fell into place. He used a similar technique with language by tearing up sentences and seeing where the words fell.

In this collage from 1916-17, Arp has used this technique allowing coloured pieces of paper to fall at random onto a larger sheet of paper. They do, however, look as if some more conscious thought has gone into their placement so, perhaps, Arp, like Joan Miró (1893-1983), wasn’t against using a mixture of chance alongside a more conscious development of the work.

Tristan Tzara also selected random words from newspapers, shook them up in a bag and selected words at random to create poetry. The concept of the ‘newspaper poem’ was also discussed by André Breton in the Surrealist Manifesto of 1924.

Dadaist work by its nature was transitory, designed to bait the public and to be, essentially, meaningless. Another concept was the idea of objects being assigned a theatricality that belied their everyday use. This was a way of forcing viewers to question the meaning of art and what they were seeing. There was the idea that art could be created by anyone and any object could be considered art if it was located in a gallery space. Artists were not superior and there was no need for any emotion to be present to create art.

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) explored these ideas using ‘ready-mades’ where everyday objects were used as the basis for his work.

Dadaism also differed depending on its location. In Berlin, towards the end of the war, the focus was very much on reality and reacting against Expressionism. The development of photomontage created an approach which was more aggressively political in tone.

Related Posts

Automatism –

Surrealism –


Arp, Jean (Hans). (1916-17) Untitled (Collage with Squares Arranged according to the Laws of Chance) [Collage] At: (Accessed on 18.07.17)


Ades, D. (1994) ‘Dada and Surrealism’ In: Stangos, N. (ed.) Concepts of Modern Art: From Fauvism to Postmodernism. 3rd rev ed. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. pp. 110-137


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In Paris, the poet André Breton had been influenced by some of the ideas of the Dadaist movement but he saw a need for more positive action in questioning the values of society. In 1924, he published the Surrealist Manifesto. The Surrealists shared some of the traits of Dadaism. They saw the bourgeoisie as the enemy and were against traditional approaches to art.

The main focus of Surrealism lay in poetry, philosophy and politics but it was the work of visual artists which introduced the movement to a wider audience. They were associated with the art of mediums, children, naïve painters and with primitive art. Some of the Dadaist artists became associated with the Surrealists including Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966), Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) and Max Ernst (1891-1976).

The Surrealist’s also had a focus on automatism and ways to bypass the conscious mind. They were interested in Freudian psychoanalysis and using dreams as subject matter though the aim was to transcribe the dream rather than interpret its meaning.

In using automatic techniques some artists, like Max Ernst and Salvador Dali (1904-1989), saw themselves as having a passive role, almost like mediums, when it came to accessing the unconscious mind. They did not, however, view this as access to the supernatural but rather a state of mind beyond immediate reality.

Max Ernst developed the technique of frottage as an equivalent to the literary approach of automatic writing. Frottage involves creating a rubbing of a textured surface and allowing the patterns to suggest ideas that can be further developed.

André Masson (1896-1987), used a technique of drawing with pen and ink but starting with no conscious idea of how the image would develop.

Collage, 1934 by Joan Miró [External Link]

Joan Miró (1893-1983) used automatism to create looser, freer work compared to his earlier representational style. His approach was to use a combination of working unconsciously and then developing the work with a more conscious approach.

In Collage, from 1934, Miró uses ordinary materials including a background of sandpaper and corrugated cardboard and felt. Using gouache, he has added an elongated black, biomorphic shape stretching from the top to bottom of the support. To the left of this a patch of purple gouache has been scraped across the surface. On the right of the image is a rectangle of grey felt. Using items such as sandpaper, cardboard and felt was a feature of work created by Dadaists and Surrealists. The aim was to challenge more traditional approaches to art and show that art could be created by anyone, using anything.

The Mood of Now, 1928 by Yves Tanguy [External Link]

In The Mood of Now, Yves Tanguy (1900-1955) has created a monochrome image which could be a seascape looking across an expanse of water or a no-man’s land from a war scene. Biomorphic shapes seem to grow or cut through the surface while loose, grey shapes of mist or smoke float across the surface. The subject matter could be based on a dream though not necessarily a direct representation of it. Surrealist work often had elements of what Freud called ‘dream work’. This includes having contrary elements side by side, the merging of objects or using objects which have a symbolic, often sexual, meaning.

Dali joined the Surrealist movement in 1929. His dream-based images were not merely a representation of what he had dreamt. Instead, he was more inclined to interpret his dreams and represent his current state of mind. His approach was seen by others in the movement as less a way to explore the unconscious mind than an attempt to publicise himself. This, along with his lack of interest in political matters, led to him leaving the movement in 1936.

With the start of the Second World War many of the artists involved with Surrealism dispersed. Breton, Ernst and Masson moved to New York and their continued activities influenced American artists who became associated with Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art.

Related Posts

Automatism –

Dadaism –


Miró, J. (1934) Collage [Collage] At: (Accessed on 19.07.17)

Tanguy, Y. (1928) The Mood of Now [Painting] At: (Accessed: 19.07.17)


Ades, D. (1994) ‘Dada and Surrealism’ In: Stangos, N. (ed.) Concepts of Modern Art: From Fauvism to Postmodernism. 3rd rev ed. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. pp. 110-137


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Automatism is often associated with the Dadaist and Surrealist movements when artists were beginning to look at ways to side-step the conscious mind and access the subconscious. The idea can, however, be traced to myths about the beginning of painting and art originating from people in pre-historic times responding to accidental shapes in nature.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) suggested to students that they should look at dirt on walls, at stones and patterns in nature for inspiration. Focused observation would allow shapes and textures to suggest ideas that could be used in their work.

In the 18th century Alexander Cozens (1717-1786) used blotting techniques to inspire landscapes, a method that he taught to his pupils. His techniques influenced John Constable (1776-1837) and Turner (1775-1851).

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) also experimented with using blots as the basis for more developed artwork. Contemporaries observed that he would use the dregs from a coffee cup or ink and create images using his fingers, sponges or brushes, even ink-soaked lace. He saw this as something more for the amusement of himself and his friends but his work did influence the Surrealists.

In the years before the First World War artists began to explore new ways to represent the world. Painting and sculpture were beginning to be seen as inadequate as ways to reflect a rapidly changing society. In 1916, Hugo Ball founded the Dadaist movement. It aimed to challenge convention both in the ways that art was produced and exhibited. Their experiments covered not just painting but poetry, performance and photomontage.

In 1919, Max Ernst (1891-1876), a leading member of the Dadaist movement, began to explore what he termed ‘beyond painting’. He was trying to find ‘automatic’ methods that would allow him to access the potential of the unconscious mind in creating imagery. He experimented with collage using items from everyday life to create artwork. This concept, of using fragments of newspapers, railway tickets and other ephemera was radical for the time as it brought elements of day-to-day life into the art world.

Another technique used by Ernst was frottage. This involved taking rubbings of surfaces such as floorboards or stone and, in a similar way to da Vinci’s suggestion, using this as the basis for more developed work.

Little Tables Around the Earth, c. 1925 by Max Ernst [External Link]

In Little Tables Around the Earth, Ernst used rubbings of surfaces which appear to be of wood and stone. At the bottom of the image a narrow, ridged area places us as the viewer in what may be a lunar landscape. On the horizon, against a dark, mottled backdrop, a large textured circle is orbited by three smaller circles. Ernst has played with patterns, textures and tonal values allowing himself to respond to what they suggest as an image.
Ernst also experimented with a technique he called grattage which means ‘scraping’ in French. For this a canvas covered with a layer of oil paint is laid over a textured surface. The paint is then scraped off creating a surface which can be further developed depending on what the shapes and textures suggest.

The Entire City, 1934 by Max Ernst [External Link]

The Entire City is an example of grattage. Most of the canvas is taken up with a textured surface which gives the idea of a stratified, perhaps bombed, city. The original surfaces look as if they may have been some kind of metallic mesh and, towards the bottom of the painting, what could be patterned material like brocade. A mottled, moonlit sky contrasts with the textures of the darkened city.

Ernst continued to experiment with automatic techniques throughout his life. In the 1940s, he punctured a hole in the base of a can of paint and swung this around to create random patterns, a technique which would inspire artists such as Jackson Pollock and other abstract expressionist painters.

Untitled, 1936-1937 by Oscar Domínguez [External Link]

Oscar Domínguez (1906-1957) used the technique of decalcomania. This involved pressing paint, usually gouache, between two surfaces and using the resulting mirror image as a basis for landscapes or fantastical, dream-like imagery. In Untitled Domínguez has used the striations of the paint to create a creature that appears to be part lion, part bicycle.

In 1924, André Breton unveiled the Surrealist manifesto. The Surrealists had some aims in common with the Dadaists and artists like Ernst and Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966) became associated with the movement. The Surrealists also had an interest in automatism and explored ways to access the unconscious mind. Many within the group were influenced by Freud’s work in relation to dreams. They experimented with trance sessions where they would achieve a passive or receptive state that allowed them to create ‘automatic’ work.

Automatic Drawing, 1924 by André Masson [External Link]

André Masson (1896-1987), used a technique of drawing with pen and ink but starting with no conscious idea of how the image would develop. Other artists, like Joan Miró (1893-1983) used a mix of automatic and conscious techniques to work in looser, freer styles than they had previously done.

Jean Hans Arp saw art produced by automatic techniques as a necessary response to a changing society. The element of chance involved in the creation of work seemed an apt way to reflect the rapid changes in transport, technology and the arts.

In using these techniques there was a need for both the artist and the viewer to adjust their response to the artwork. As Modernism in art moved away from a more traditional representation of reality there was a need for both the artist and the viewing public to consider the meaning of the actual marks and make sense of what they saw. Without the cues of realistic representation or more traditional subjects the viewer was, and still is, forced to respond to the work in a more individual way and use their own experience to create meaning.

Related Posts

Dadaism –

Surrealism –


Domínguez, O. (1936-1937) Untitled [Decalcomania] At: (Accessed 18.07.17)

Ernst, Max. (c. 1925) Little Tables Around the Earth [Frottage] At: (Accessed on 18.07.17)

Ernst, Max. (1934) The Entire City [Grattage] At: (Accessed on 18.07.17)

Masson, A. (1924) Automatic Drawing [Drawing] At: (Accessed 18.07.17)


Backus, J. (2014) ‘Beyond Painting: The Experimental Techniques of Max Ernst’ In: 30.12.14 [online] At: (Accessed 12.07.17)

Turner, C. (2011). ‘The Deliberate Accident in Art’ In: Tate Etc. Issue 21: Spring 2011 [online] At: 12.07.17)


Posted in Exploring the Field - Contextual Research | Leave a comment