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Artists Rooms At Swanson Gallery, Thurso

18th January 2011

Swanson Gallery, Thurso exhibits work of acclaimed American artist
Ed Ruscha - Major works from Four Decades

ARTIST ROOMS on Tour with the Art Fund supported by The Scottish Government

Major drawings by Ed Ruscha, one of the most influential and pioneering American artists of the past half-century, will be opening at the Swanson Gallery, Thurso Library on Saturday 15th January until 26th February as part of ARTIST ROOMS, the important new public collection of international post-war and contemporary art that independent charity the Art Fund is helping to tour across the UK.

ARTIST ROOMS is jointly owned and managed by National Galleries of Scotland and Tate on behalf of the nation. Following the success of 2009, 21 museums and galleries across the UK in 2010 will be showing 25 ARTIST ROOMS exhibitions and displays from the collection created by the curator and collector, Anthony d'Offay, and acquired by the nation in February 2008. ARTIST ROOMS on Tour with the Art Fund supported by The Scottish Government has been devised to enable this collection held by Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland, to reach and inspire new audiences across the country, particularly young people.

This ARTIST ROOMS exhibition offers the first opportunity for Caithness audiences to see a substantial selection of the work of Ed Ruscha (b.1937).

It is the first time that Ruscha's work drawn from the ARTIST ROOMS collection has toured the Scottish Highlands in this way. Travelling to the Swanson Gallery in Thurso and Timespan in Helmsdale, an important selection of drawings by Ruscha spanning four decades will highlight the artist's evocative and inventive use of language.

Born in 1937 in America's Midwest, Ed Ruscha grew up in Oklahoma City. In 1956, aged 18, he set out for California, driving 1,500 miles west on the legendary Route 66. Arriving in Los Angeles, he enrolled at the Chouinard Art Institute, a Disney-sponsored art school where he studied fine art alongside typesetting and graphic design. At that time, abstract expressionism held sway in the classroom. Finding that this spontaneous, gestural approach left no room for his own ideas, Ruscha began to make paintings that were premeditated and planned, in which text and imagery from everyday life converged. By the early 1960s, he was perceived to have to have created a new form of visual landscape combining typography with commonplace objects.

Over the past half-century, Ruscha's art has evolved in unpredictable ways. At the same time, the things that first fired his imagination - cinema and film; driving, roadside signs, and the flat, featureless landscapes of the American West; the city, filled with constant visual noise; the phenomenon of human communication and the pleasures of typography - remain the basis for his art.

From works that feature single onomatopoeic words and declamatory phrases, to signature images such as the gas station in Standard Study #3, the drawings in this touring exhibition will show the range of Ruscha's practice and the centrality of drawing to his career. Rather than a preparatory tool, Ruscha has always seen drawings as finished works in themselves, stating that 'drawing, or working on paper, afforded me a way to make some kind of off-campus statement that was not in the mainstream of thinking, which is painting to me. So when I made drawings, they weren't cartoons or studies, they were end results.'

The exhibition will feature works such as Honk 1962 and Standard Study #3, the major group of eight 1970s pastel drawings that includes I PLEAD INSANITY BECAUSE I'M JUST CRAZY ABOUT THAT LITTLE GIRL1976 and SMELLS LIKE BACK OF OLD HOT RADIO1976, as well as later works which introduce the theme of cinema and Hollywood, such as THE END #402003 and DEC. 30th2005, both acrylic on paper.

Ed Ruscha has been based in Los Angeles for all his working life, but he is no stranger to the UK since his first visit to London in 1961. In 2004 he was elected an Honorary Academician of London's Royal Academy of Arts, and in the same year a large exhibition of his work took place at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. In 2005 Ruscha represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. Last year, a major retrospective of his work was held at the Hayward Gallery in London; that same year, Ruscha generously donated a painting, The Music from the Balconies 1984, to the ARTIST ROOMS collection.

US President Barack Obama presented David Cameron with a lithograph by the artist, titled Column With Speed Lines, during the Prime Minister's recent visit to the US.

The exhibition will tour to Timespan, Helmsdale (5 March - 13 April) after it closes at the Swanson Gallery. Admission is free.

Wick Councillor Bill Fernie, chairman of the Education, Culture and Sport Committee said, "To have such a unique collection touring the Highlands and being made available in Caithness gives everyone the opportunity to enjoy a world renowned artist's work. The exhibition is all about inspiring new folk to take an interest and particularly I hope that as many young folk in the county will take the opportunity to see it."

For further information please contact:
Swanson Gallery Tel. 01847 896357
Opening times
Mon, Tue, Wed - 1 to 5pm;
Fri - 1 to 8pm; Sat - 10am to 1pm;
Closed Thurs and Sun

To find out more information about ARTIST ROOMS on Tour please visit To see the full ARTIST ROOMS collection please visit and

The Art Fund is a membership charity that helps museums and galleries buy works of art for all to enjoy through awarding grants, campaigning and fundraising. Recent highlights include the 3.3 million campaign to save the Staffordshire Hoard, a fundraising initiative that was kick-started with a 300,000 Art Fund grant. The Fund is financed by the generosity of its 80,000 members and supporters who have a passion for art and the institutions that house great collections. For more information contact the Press Office on 020 7225 4888 or visit


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