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Birds, Pencils
For The Birds
by Charlie Finch

"We've got seven of the ten originals," C&M gallery director Robert Pincus-Witten told us at the opulent opening of the rare 1965 series of fauna by Ed Ruscha. "Irving Blum and Walter Hopps showed them at the Ferus Gallery once, right after Ruscha painted them. Two were sold to institutions and another was subsequently, and irreparably, damaged in transit. We have the rest."

Of course, it was the Ferus Gallery, left coast pioneer, which unleashed Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans on the unsuspecting world, and it is instructive to compare Ruscha’s contemporaneous birds with the progenitrix of Pop.

"These birds aren’t really Pop, are they?" Pincus-Witten asked us.

"They’re Surrealism," we replied -– of a distinctly Oklahoma variety. The young Ed shoves pencils up the butts and beaks of sparrows, a sick trope which didn’t occur to Andy.

Just the other day, sitting in our garden, we observed, shockingly, an elegant blue jay kill a common sparrow with a swift pierce of its cannibalistic beak. Not for nothing are birds now acknowledged as the descendants of dinosaurs.

Ed Ruscha’s brother and manager, Paul Ruscha, is also troubled by the alien, carnal aggression of his brother’s juvenile, feathered obsession.

In the essay for C&M’s catalogue (a must purchase), Paul attributes young Ed’s sharp edge to Catholicism! How could such sweet things (Ed and the boids) be so disturbing?

Let’s refer to the number one hit of 1964, a song perhaps not unknown to young Ed Ruscha, Surfin’ Bird (aka Papa-Oom Ma Mow) by the Trashmen.

To wit:

Everybody’s heard about the bird
Bird bird bird
A well-a–bird bird bird
The bird is the word –-
Don’t you know about the bird?
Well everybody knows
That the bird is the word:
Papa oom mow mow
Papa oom mow mow
A well a bird bird,
The bird’s the word
Papa oom mow mow
Papa oom mow mow...

On such a smash did Ed Ruscha build a whole career.

Ed Ruscha, "Birds, Fish and Offspring," Apr. 25-June 8, 2002, at C&M Arts, 45 East 78th Street, New York, N.Y. 10021

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).

More works by
Edward Ruscha
in Artnet Galleries