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“I learned so much from the stimulating people I studied with,” Ed Ruscha told Introspective Magazine of Joe Goode, the artist behind Tornado Drawing #35.
With a substantial donation, legendary artist and Oklahoman Ed Ruscha and his wife Danna give from their personal art collection to the state he once called home.
By Leighona Bernstein
Published January/February 2017
While Ruscha’s works, with their varying backstories and divergent themes, have gone around the world, his gift to the Fred Jones reflects a respect for home.
“The donation was a way to expand the conversation about artists who either grew up in this great state or had connections to it,” Ruscha says. “The artworks of mine in the donation reflect my attraction to the red soil, state fairs, watermelon stands, and stock car racing in the Oklahoma I grew up in.”
And Oklahoma has followed Ruscha throughout his career. After he arrived in California many decades ago, he found himself living with a few Okie friends. One of those was photographer Jerry McMillan.
“We shared a house and called it ‘Students Five,’ ” McMillan told the New Yorker in 2014. “We all rented studios in the same compound, and we’d all get there around 8 a.m., 9 a.m. at the latest and just get straight to work.”
McMillan and Ruscha continued to collaborate. In 2004, McMillan exhibited a series of portraits of Ruscha at the Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica, California titled Picturing Ed: Jerry McMillan’s photographs of Ed Ruscha 1958-1972. The exhibition went on to show in Kölnbonn, Germany, in 2006. Ruscha’s donation to the Fred Jones includes McMillan’s Untitled (L.A. Skyline), a copper cutout made from a photograph of the Los Angeles skyline.
“Jerry McMillan is another Okie with deep roots to the state,” Ruscha says of the photographer. “He’s represented by a work that reflects another landscape in his travels as an artist.”
Joe Goode, whose pieces also were included in the donation, grew up in Oklahoma City and has known Ruscha since they were seven years old. And while Ruscha’s pieces at the Fred Jones seem optimistic, some of Goode’s art looks toward a darker reality of life in Oklahoma: tornadoes.
“Once, when Jerry McMillan and I were driving together from Stillwater, there was a tornado,” Goode says. “Every time we went through a little town, an announcement came on the radio that the tornado had just hit that town. That was one of the most terrifying times I’ve ever had. A tornado is one of those acts of nature you can never be prepared for.”
Tornadoes’ unpredictability is conveyed best in a smaller piece titled Roger Mills to Cherokee County. In Tornado Drawing #35 and Tornado Drawing #3, Goode uses jet-black sumi ink and washi paper to craft a more traditional interpretation of the disasters. He continued on the theme with ten works that make up the Twisters Portfolio. Each explores a documented weather event.
“I was at Will Rogers airport in Oklahoma City, and I bought a book called Those Terrible Twisters,” Goode says. “I read it on the plane. They would show a tornado on one page, and the page adjoining it would say, ‘Chickasha, Oklahoma 1948, thirteen people killed.’ I used that information to describe tornadoes.”
Tornadoes are a regular part of life for many Okies. For Goode, this donation reconnects his artwork with that reality. For Ruscha, it contains images of and artists from a home that continues to have a place in his life. And while these pieces ask many questions, they seem to answer with just one word: Oklahoma.
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Get There: The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. 555 Elm Avenue in Norman, (405) 325-3272 or ou.edu/fjjma.