Ed Ruscha was one of the leading artists of the Pop art movement. Pop art emerged in the mid-twentieth century as artists like Ruscha worked to collapse the boundaries between popular culture and fine art. Much of Pop art’s aesthetic borrows from consumer culture. The imagery of advertisements and comic books proved widely influential.
When Ruscha was in his twenties, he set off to Europe with his family. Wanze was inspired by a love interest Ruscha met in Austria, who affectionately called him her “wanze,” or “bug” in German. The saucer and cup in the bottom right corner of the image further references Austria’s coffee houses, which Ruscha enjoyed during his time there. Looking closer, the viewer can spot Ruscha’s clever addition of what appears to be a small bug drowning in the coffee.
Ruscha is known for frequently using text in his artwork, wanting to explore the noise and fluidity of language. In this drawing, “wanze” appears to be written with a ribbon–indeed, for the first of Ruscha’s series of similar word drawings, he made a physical model to draw from using folded paper–turning the word into a three-dimensional form. From the viewer’s bird’s eye perspective, the text gains a maze-like appearance. Additionally, with the care and attention given to the text’s shadows, enhancing the curvatures of each letter, viewers are led to appreciate the form of the text in addition to, or rather than, the meaning. This image furthermore plays with composition and scale, the gigantic word and the miniscule coffee cup are all that exist in the isolated world of the drawing.
Artist: Ed Ruscha
Medium: Gunpowder, graphite, watercolor, and ink on wove-screen paper
Dimension: 14 5/16 x 22 9/16 in. (36.35 x 57.31 cm)
Collection: The Buck Collection at the UCI Institute and Museum for California Art
Copyright: Ed Ruscha. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian.