Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights (1962) by Edward Ruscha was one of the paintings that led to Ruscha’s rise to prominence in the early 1960s. The painting depicts the logo of the Hollywood studio 20th century Fox complete with spotlights, as it appears at the beginning of every film made by the studio. The painting’s long horizontal format (170x335cm) is even similar to a movie screen.
The idea for the painting came about during Ruscha’s trip to New York in 1961. While staying at the Hotel Governor Clinton, he created Trademark Sketch (1961), a sketch of the studio logo in ball pen drawn on hotel stationery. The sketch had a graphic quality that reflected the artist’s training and experience of working as a commercial artist for advertising companies. His time in New York in 1961 was also significant for a different reason: while there, he also saw early examples of Pop Art by Roy Lichtenstein at the Leo Castelli Gallery. A year later, works like Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights marked the emergence of a West Coast school of pop art comprised of Los Angeles artists. The painting Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights is emblematic of Los Angeles: it evokes the images of the Los Angeles ‘strip’, and represents its significance as the home of the entertainment industry and the center of cinematic culture.
Both in style and choice of subject, Ruscha drew inspiration from advertising imagery. In its format, scale, stylized lines and the flattened planes of color, Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights is reminiscent of an advertising billboard. Ruscha’s literal and exaggerated translation of the 20th century Fox trademark gives the image a comical and ironic quality that is characteristic of Pop Art. In the painting, the artist also explored the relationship between the canvas, the body and the visual environment of Los Angeles. At the core of the composition is the contrast between the large stylized text and the small details. When standing in front of Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights, the composition draws the viewer’s eye to follow the perspectival lines of the text that recede to the tiny point in the lower right corner. The painting was first exhibited in May 1963 at the Ferus Gallery, an important staple of the Los Angeles contemporary art scene in the late 1950s and 1960s. In a gallery setting, the monumental canvas forces the viewer to step back, and walk back and forth to fully appreciate the painting.
This was a chief concern for Ruscha, in multiple paintings from the period he applied different strategies in order to examine different ways in which the viewer can engage with the painting. In Actual Size (1962) for instance, Ruscha played with scale, creating a contrast between the large and the small text. Like Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights, Actual Size engages the viewer by tempting them to examine the painting from up close as well as from afar. Today, Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights is part of the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.