The word “Tex” drifts diagonally across this broody painting by Ed Ruscha, as if it were a credit at the end of a movie or the logo of a film studio: “When I would see movies as a young kid,” the artist once recalled, “I would see those logos and they were almost as memorable as the movies.” The hazy black and white backdrop and plunging shadow in Tex summon the early days of cinema, specifically the genre of film noir.

“A lot of my paintings are anonymous backdrops for the drama of words,” Ruscha has stated. “And the backgrounds are of no particular character. They’re just meant to support the drama, like the Hollywood sign being held up by sticks.” In a way, we can consider “Tex” the mysterious protagonist of this cinematic painting. On one hand, “Tex” could be shorthand for Texas or Texan; on the other, it might be an incomplete play on the word text. Perhaps it’s neither or maybe it’s both. The fact that the incongruous wood slat is rendered with trompe l‘oeil precision also suggests intriguing connections between painterly illusions and the fiction of movies. However we might interpret this painting, it retains an elusive quality, quietly building suspense and deliberately withholding resolution or clarity.