The Ed Ruscha print Steve Martin sold when he “angrily left L.A.”

Everyone knows Steve Martin is an avid collector and lifelong champion of the arts, but did you know his first purchase of art was a $125 print of Ed Ruscha’s Hollywood sign?

From LACMA’s curator notes: “Ed Ruscha first drew the Hollywood sign in 1967…Ruscha has joked that the sign was ‘a smog indicator: if I could read it, the weather was OK.'”

Ruscha’s series of Hollywood sign prints showcase the hallmarks we’ve come to associate with Ruscha; beautiful typography, sharp angles, and a word that speaks volumes.

“‘Hollywood’ is like a verb to me…It’s something you can do to any subject or any thing.”

Ed Ruscha
Schrafft’s Hollywood Study (Ed Ruscha, 1967), The Art Institute of Chicago

Above: This simple pen and pencil sketch on a placemat tells a wonderful origin story. It belongs to the prints and drawings collection at The Art Institute of Chicago.

We can see the origin of Ruscha’s Hollywood series on a placemat from the legendary Schrafft’s restaurants. There’s Ruscha’s signature diminishing perspective made famous by his Standard Station series and it appears he’s working out his preferred line of sight. In the upper-left of the placemat, the sketch includes the sign’s iconic position on a bluff in the Santa Monica Mountains, but he would later shift the perspective and sign’s position to the mountain ridge.

“The first thing I bought happened to be an Ed Ruscha print of Hollywood, the Hollywood sign. I bought it from Irving Blum’s gallery on La Cienega and I paid $125 for it, and I was very excited.”

Steve Martin

Surely the first piece of art Steve Martin ever purchased must still remain in his collection, especially from a titan like Ed Ruscha, someone Steve Martin would eventually call friend. Right? Sadly, the answer is no. According to a 2010 New York Times article, Martin explains, “It’s a long story…I sold it when I angrily left L.A.”

I would love to hear that long story, wouldn’t you?

Below: Here’s a wonderful primer on the art and life of Ed Ruscha

“Ed Ruscha: Buildings and Words” – YouTube

How Steve Martin Became an Art Collector, Art Gallery of Ontario
Ed Ruscha Hollywood screenprint in colors,
Hat tip to this 2010 tweet by Abigail De Kosnik
Steve Martin’s ‘Object of Beauty’ Tackles New York Art World, The New York Times
Schrafft’s Hollywood Study, 1967, The Art Institute of Chicago