Interviews

Ed Ruscha on Wanting a Product and a Final Result

The ASX Team

December 5, 2015

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Heaven Hell @ Ed Ruscha

“I have really no direction, I have no plans. I can’t write my future. I can’t write my own history. I’m most fascinated by that one idea of the things that are undone now, will be done in five years time.” – Ed Ruscha

MR. RUSCHA: I think the unknown is one facet of being an artist that has the most to offer for myself. Not knowing what’s done in the future. I’ve always felt that way. I’ve always wondered what direction I will take at some point in the future, or how will my future unfold itself? Possibly that’s one thing that I’m baffled by, but I’m also committed to. So I have really no direction, I have no plans. I can’t write my future. I can’t write my own history. I’m most fascinated by that one idea of the things that are undone now, will be done in five years time.

MR. KARLSTROM: In other words, you’re interested in seeing what will happen.

MR. RUSCHA: Yes, I’m interested in what is interesting. So the future, and less about what I happened to be involved in right now which is always really mundane by comparison to maybe other people’s lives. Because it is a kind of curious individual enterprise. It all depends on me and not somebody else and I can’t get fired from the job–but I’ve felt like it, I’ve felt like firing myself, but I know I’m helpless.

MR. KARLSTROM: Who would you hire to replace yourself? You said that it’s not necessarily–what you’re doing right now is not, or often not, terribly exciting. If I understood you correctly, the greater excitement is wondering what will come next. But obviously when you get to that next stage–

MR. RUSCHA: I’m going to still feel like that.

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Rustic Pines, 1967 @ Ed Ruscha

“Basically I’m the kind of artist who wants a product. That’s very difficult to explain. But since my work is contrived in the sense that I have an idea of what this end result is going to be like, then the means to the end becomes a chore in many ways. So I’m involved daily in the chore of getting to the end result. I’m really less interested in the means to the end, and more interested in the final result.” – Ed Ruscha

MR. KARLSTROM: Then you’ll say, oh, well this is okay. This is what I do, for better or for worse, but gee, I wonder what’s going to happen next. So it’s perpetually moving in that way. That’s obviously what keeps you going. I would expect, though, that you get very excited by new ideas, things that occur to you which you can put into your work. I would think that would be part of what keeps you going. And that’s done in the present. Or are you saying this, that that idea, the concept is exciting, but when it comes to the execution it is more routine.

MR. RUSCHA: Basically I’m the kind of artist who wants a product. That’s very difficult to explain. But since my work is contrived in the sense that I have an idea of what this end result is going to be like, then the means to the end becomes a chore in many ways. So I’m involved daily in the chore of getting to the end result. I’m really less interested in the means to the end, and more interested in the final result. Sometimes I surprise myself as to what direction I’m going to take. So going backwards is hearsay. It’s all things that have happened. Some of the past things are hard to explain and the future’s even harder.

MR. KARLSTROM: But it’s always open. So one can imagine that everything will come together that didn’t perhaps in the past. So when you say you’re thinking of firing yourself, what you mean is you want to fire yourself as the executor of your own ideas. That it would be nice to have like a robot that would have the same facility as Ed Ruscha and the same skills in making something.

MR. RUSCHA: Yes. And as quaint as that sounds, it’s still a possibility, literally. I’m not one who subscribes to the idea that the artist has to actually with his own hand produce his own works. I’m not that enthusiastic about that subject to go off and look for someone to do my own work or find the robot. But I’m just saying there are no real answers to the way of getting art work done. But I do find myself, I don’t have a lot of helpers around here, you can see, and so–

MR. KARLSTROM: I don’t see any. I sometimes wonder how you find time to do your work. I ask that for one reason. Every once in a while I come down and take up several hours talking into a tape recorder–I know damn well I’m not the only one that puts demands on your time, some of them serious demands and in other cases perhaps more of a nuisance than anything else. I notice we sit here and that phone rings constantly. You’ve got that device now which records the messages, and then you also go out to the desert and work at your place. How do you find time for this execution, because you still–the way you work now–are tied to that, executing.

MR. RUSCHA: I do find time for it. I just do, and while I don’t produce a prodigious amount of work like some artists do, I still find time for it. I guess I spend less time running around the city than a lot of people do. I spend a lot of time in the studio.

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(All rights reserved. Excerpt from Oral history interview with Edward Ruscha, 1980 October 29-1981 October 2, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.)