Pay Nothing Until April by Edward Ruscha

Edward Ruscha

Pay Nothing Until April, 2003, Acrylic paint on canvas, 152.7 x 152.5 cm, Tate; ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008, AR00047, © Ed Ruscha; Photo © Tate, London / Art Resource, NY

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Buying on Loan

Commentary by
Read by Ben Quash

With great economy, Psalm 15 distils no fewer than ten behavioural qualities that the faithful worshipper should embody (Brueggemann & Bellinger 2014: 82). Among the qualities of those who would ‘walk blamelessly, and do what is right’ (15:2) is that they ‘do not lend money at interest’ (15:5).

In ancient Near Eastern society, as today, money-lending at interest was ethically problematic. While yielding profits for those rich with the power to lend, it could worsen suffering for vulnerable borrowers. The psalm echoes its proscription in Jewish law (Exodus 22:25–27; Leviticus 25:35–38; Deuteronomy 16:19–20).

Pay Nothing Until April are the words emblazoned over a glossy, picturesque image of a snow-capped mountain. The phrase is familiar as an enticement to buy—to buy, perhaps, something not quite affordable.

Since the Pop era of the 1960s, from his adopted home city of Los Angeles, Nebraska-born artist Ed Ruscha has pioneered a distinctive art practice of exploring words in space—abstract, urban, and natural. Pay Nothing Until April is one of a series of mountain paintings he began making in 1997. Like a sign-painter (Ruscha worked as one early in his career), he superimposes over these scenes of geological grandeur seemingly banal or incongruous words and text fragments, using his own gawky typeface, which he dubs ‘Boy Scout Utility Modern’. Its qualities further reinforce the sense of ‘cheapness’ suggested by the shallow words.

This work features a concise slogan pressing a covert usury—the offer of lent money (15:5) with interest payment deferred—as a lure. The implied human commodification of the earth, which is ‘the Lord’s’ (24:1) in the aspirational image of alpine tourism suggests a secular ‘holy hill’ of its own kind in the cult of beauty and the sublime, here destabilized and ironically rendered cheap by connotations of pop and kitsch.

 

References

Brueggemann, Walter and William H. Bellinger, Jr. 2014. Psalms, (New York: Cambridge University Press)


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