Hammer Gallery’s head curator, Douglas Fogle, has put together an exhibition featuring a pair of men who have had some serious impact on documenting America’s cultural landscape over the years. In Ed Ruscha’s large canvas acrylic paintings, he takes bite-size chunks from Kerouac’s On The Road and places them over nature backdrops. As a writer I’m always interested in what images can do for the words, whether the pure grit of fiction can be enhanced at all without losing something. But as small clips, these words grow to represent something larger than themselves, something iconic, with that mountain peak below, and loom larger even than from their context in Kerouac’s famed scroll. A quote of epic proportion. At first I didn’t love how the white “probably” blends in with the snow, but on second glance I liked it. The barely there ‘probably’ gives a fluctuation to the end of the sentence, shifting it to “one that means heaven.”
The spacing between the words and the way in which they float seems to isolate the phrase in such a way that a singular impact is created. The sense that Kerouac’s words are here, on a large canvas hung on a wall, gives them a tangible permanence that is hard to gain from reading them on a page amid their fellow sentences. And the surreal, almost alien-like shadow on the mountain below makes me think of the peaks with their great mystics perching, small men sweating up mountains for a grain of advice from an illuminated sage, the immeasurable sky of an environment that is not too shabby despite man’s messy habitation.
Mixed Greens has a show up right now called Cabin Fever that has some work similar to Ruscha’s, and I think it would be interesting to look at them side by side. These are small laser print and spray paint pieces by Tyler Matthew Oyer that are mounted on aluminum. There is more going on in these and less negative space. The scale and beauty of the desert landscapes and hills together with the gold wording and portal-like doorway framing a painted peak, when combined with names of Broadway musicals, create a temporary vision of a place and an era, much like Ed Ruscha’s paintings do for Kerouac’s words. These remind me of the black and white of old television, and of alien sightings and spectacle. Where mystics would be climbing Ruscha’s hills for wise words, men climbing these desert hunks of rock could be looking for hints of something beyond what mankind has found before, for extraterrestrials or doorways into other worlds. Happy Monday.