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Ed Ruscha

    ROO-shuh  speaker-click to hear pronunciation  click to hear

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Ed Ruscha
Edward Ruscha was born on December 16, 1937 in Omaha, Nebraska.  He was brought up in Oklahoma.  In 1956 Ruscha drove west from Oklahoma City with songwriter Mason Williams.  At the time he was doing monosyllable word paintings, as well as the paintings of gas stations, sunsets and the Hollywood sign.  He studied at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles under Richard Rubin from 1956 through 1960.  He served in the United States Navy in Los Angeles at about the same time.

He married Danna Knego, and in 1968 their only son, Edward Joseph Ruscha V, was born.  They called him Frenchy.  In 1977, Ruscha and Danna were divorced, but ten years later they remarried. They live in a low-slung ranch house high in the Santa Monica Mountains. When their next door neighbors moved out, they bought that house, and remodeled the two houses together into a larger rambling one that suited them to perfection.  In addition Ruscha maintains a warehouse-sized studio in Venice, California and a getaway house in Palm Springs.

Ruscha's art elaborated language and popular culture and his quirky approach to art made his work difficult to categorize.  A truly remarkable fact is that despite his success over the years he often had exhibitions in which not a single painting was sold.  He took this as a matter of course and eventually his work sold, although it sometimes took several years.  He is very prolific; he paints and draws, using unexpected materials in unexpected ways; photography looms very large in his choice of media and through it all, words.  He records the contemporary scene in all its flavors.

He lectured on painting at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1969 and 1970.  When Frenchy was twenty, they modeled together in magazine ads for the Gap clothing store chain.  He has appeared in several movies.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:

"Pop Goes Los Angeles", article by Mark Stevens in Newsweek magazine, August 23, 1982

"The Last Word" by Ralph Rugoff in ARTnews magazine, December 1989

"Rancho Ruscha" by Hunter Drohojowska-Philip in Architectural Digest, date unknown

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Ed Ruscha
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Ed Ruscha became a prominent figure in the fine arts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.  In 2004, he was selected as the solo representative of the United States to the Venice Biennale* in June, 2005.

Working from a studio in Hollywood, California, he did work that includes painting, graphic art, photography, writing, and filmmaking.  He is especially known for his witty paintings with calligraphy* and numeric messages that reflect urban imagery of American life, especially the West and Southern California.   Titles of his works include US 66, (1960; Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations, (1964); Real Estate Opportunities, (1970); and Honey, I Twisted Through More Danmed Traffic Today (1970).

He studied art at the Chouinard Art Institute* in Los Angeles between 1956 and 1960, and then served in the United States Navy, traveled in Europe, and taught as artist-in-residence at numerous universities and art schools.

Some of his earliest letter paintings were done in his Paris hotel room from sketches he made of subway signs and other recognizable pop-culture images.  Many of his backgrounds were painterly*, meaning heavy with impasto*.  He has created numerous books featuring photographs that document American gasoline stations, houses, and swimming pools, among other subjects.  Much of this subject matter came from his trips across America, beginning in 1956 when he left his hometown of Oklahoma City and drove west along Route 66 to Los Angeles, a trip he was to repeat many times.

A special 2001 traveling exhibition of his work: "Edward Ruscha" was held June-September 1 at The Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC, and from November 20 to June 3, 2001, was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.  Beginning January, 2006, a traveling exhibition, "Ed Ruscha: Photographer", began touring Europe with an opening in Paris at the Musee Jeu de Paume.

Sources include:
Dorothy Spears, "Road Trip", Art & Antiques, February 2006, p. 47-49
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from Palm Beach Modern Auctions
Although Ruscha denies this in interviews, the vernacular of Los Angeles and Southern California landscapes contributes to the themes and styles central to much of Ruscha’s paintings, drawings, and books. Examples of this include the publication Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966), a book of continuous photographs of a two and one half mile stretch of the 24 mile boulevard.[5] In 1973, following the model of Every Building on the Sunset Strip, he photographed the entire length of Hollywood Boulevard with a motorized camera.[6] Also, paintings such as Standard Station (1966), Large Trademark (1962), and Hollywood (1982) exemplify Ruscha’s kinship with the Southern California visual language. Two of these paintings, Standard and Large Trademark were emulated out of car parts in 2008 by Brazilian photographer Vik Muniz as a commentary on Los Angeles and its car culture.

His work is also strongly influenced by the Hollywood film industry: the mountain in his Mountain Series is a play on the Paramount Pictures logo; Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights (1962) depicts the 20th Century Fox logo, while the dimensions of this work are reminiscent of a movie screen; in his painting The End (1991) these two words, which comprised the final shot in all black-and-white films, are surrounded by scratches and streaks reminiscent of damaged celluloid. Also, the proportions of the Hollywood print seems to mimic the Cinemascope screen (however, to make the word "Hollywood", Ruscha transposed the letters of the sign from their actual location on the slope of the Santa Monica Mountains to the crest of the ridge).

Ruscha completed Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights in 1961, one year after graduating from college. Among his first paintings (SU (1958–1960), Sweetwater (1959)) this is the most widely known, and exemplifies Ruscha’s interests in popular culture, word depictions, and commercial graphics that would continue to inform his work throughout his career. Large Trademark was quickly followed by Standard Station (1963) and Wonder Bread (1962). In Norm’s, La Cienega, on Fire (1964), Burning Gas Station (1965–66), and Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire (1965–68), Ruscha brought flames into play.[7] In 1966, Ruscha reproduced Standard Station in a silkscreen print using a split-fountain printing technique, introducing a gradation of tone in the background of the print, with variations following in 1969 (Mocha Standard, Cheese Mold Standard with Olive, and Double Standard).[8]

In 1985, Ruscha begins a series of "City Lights" paintings, where grids of bright spots on dark grounds suggest aerial views of the city at night.[9] More recently, his "Metro Plots" series chart the various routes that transverse the city of Los Angeles by rendering schematized street maps and blow-ups of its neighborhood sections, such as in Alvarado to Doheny (1998).[10] The paintings are grey and vary in their degrees of light and dark, therefore appearing as they were done by pencil in the stippling technique.[11] A 2003 portfolio of prints called Los Francisco San Angeles shows street intersections from San Francisco and LA juxtaposed one over the other.[12]

As with Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, his East Coast counterparts, Ed Ruscha’s artistic training was rooted in commercial art. His interest in words and typography ultimately provided the primary subject of his paintings, prints and photographs.[13] The very first of Ruscha's word paintings were created as oil paintings on paper in Paris in 1961.[14] Since 1964, Ruscha has been experimenting regularly with painting and drawing words and phrases, often oddly comic and satirical sayings alluding to popular culture and life in LA.

When asked where he got his inspiration for his paintings, Ruscha responded, “Well, they just occur to me; sometimes people say them and I write down and then I paint them. Sometimes I use a dictionary.” From 1966 to 1969, Ruscha painted his “liquid word” paintings: Words such as Adios (1967), Steel (1967–9) and Desire (1969) were written as if with liquid spilled, dribbled or sprayed over a flat monochromatic surface. His gunpowder and graphite drawings (made during a period of self-imposed exile from painting from 1967 to 1970)[15] feature single words depicted in a trompe l’oeil technique, as if the words are formed from ribbons of curling paper. Experimenting with humorous sounds and rhyming word plays, Ruscha made a portfolio of seven mixed-media lithographs with the rhyming words, News, Mews, Pews, Brews, Stews, Dues, News (1970).[16]

In the 1970s, Ruscha, with Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, among others, began using entire phrases in their works, thereby making it a distinctive characteristic of the post-Pop Art generation.[17] During the mid-1970s, he made a series of drawings in pastel using pithy phrases against a field of colour.[18] In the early 1980s he produced a series of paintings of words over sunsets, night skies and wheat fields. In the photo-realist painting Brave Men Run In My Family (1988), part of the artist's "Dysfuntional Family" series, Ruscha runs the text over the silhouetted image of a great, listing tall ship; the piece was a collaboration with fellow Los Angeles artist Nancy Reese (she did the painting, he the lettering).[19] In a series of insidious small abstract paintings from 1994–95, words forming threats are rendered as blank widths of contrasting color like Morse code.[20] Later, words appeared on a photorealist mountain-range series which Ruscha started producing in 1998.[21] For these acrylic-on-canvas works, Ruscha pulled his mountain images either from photographs, commercial logos, or from his imagination.[22]

From 1980, Ruscha started using an all-caps typeface of his own invention named Boy Scout Utility Modern”in which curved letter forms are squared-off (as in the Hollywood Sign)[23] This simple font which is radically different from the style he used in works such as Honk (1962).[24] Beginning in the mid-1980s, in many of his paintings black or white ‘blanks’ or ‘censor strips’ are included, to suggest where the ‘missing’ words would have been placed.

The ‘blanks’ would also feature in his series of Silhouette, Cityscapes or ‘censored’ word works, often made in bleach on canvas, rayon or linen.[25]
Paintings such as Angry Because It’s Plaster, Not Milk (1965) and Strange Catch for a Fresh Water Fish (1965) are exemplary works from Ruscha’s group of paintings from the mid-1960s that take the strict idea of literal representation into the realm of the absurd. This body of work is characterized by what the artist termed “bouncing objects, floating things,” such as a radically oversized red bird and glass hovering in front of a simple background in the work and have a strong affinity to Surrealism, a recurring theme in the artist’s career.[26] The fish plays a prominent role throughout the series and appears in nearly half of the paintings.[27] Another frequent element is Ruscha's continuous depiction of a graphite pencil - broken, splintered, melted, transformed.

In his drawings, prints, and paintings throughout the 1970s, Ruscha experimented with a range of materials including gunpowder, vinyl, blood, red wine, fruit and vegetable juices, axle grease, chocolate syrup, tomato paste, bolognese sauce, cherry pie, coffee, caviar, daffodils, tulips, raw eggs and grass stains.[28] Stains, an editioned portfolio of 75 stained sheets of paper produced and published by Ruscha in 1969, bears the traces of a variety of materials and fluids. In the portfolio of screenprints News, Mews, Pews, Brews, Stews, Dues (1970), produced at Editions Alecto, London, rhyming words appear in Gothic typeface, printed in edible substances such as pie fillings, bolognese sauce, caviar, and chocolate syrup.[29]

Ruscha has also produced his word paintings with food products on moiré and silks, since they were more stain-absorbent; paintings like A Blvd. Called Sunset (1975) were executed in blackberry juice on moiré. However, these most vibrant and varied organic colourings usually dried to a range of muted greys, mustards and browns.[30] His portfolio Insects (1972) consists of six screen prints – three on paper, three on paper-backed wood veneer, each showing a lifelike swarm of a different meticulously detailed species. For the April 1972 cover of ARTnews, he composed an Arcimboldo-like photograph that spelled out the magazine’s title in a salad of squashed foods. Ruscha's Fruit Metrecal Hollywood (1971) is an example of the artist's use of unusual materials, this silkscreen of the "Hollywood" sign is rendered in apricot and grape jam and the diet drink Metrecal on paper.[31]

Notably different from many of Ruscha’s works of the same period, most obviously in its exclusion of text, his series of Miracle pastel drawings from in the mid-1970s show bright beams of light burst forth from skies with dark clouds. An overall glow is created by the black pastel not being completely opaque, allowing the paper to shine through.[32] In the 1980s, a more subtle motif began to appear, again in a series of drawings, some incorporating dried vegetable pigments: a mysterious patch of light cast by an unseen window that serves as background for phrases such as WONDER SICKNESS (1984) and 99% DEVIL, 1% ANGEL (1983). By the 1990s, Ruscha was creating larger paintings of light projected into empty rooms, some with ironic titles such as An Exhibition of Gasoline Powered Engines (1993).

Ruscha's first major public commissions include a monumental mural at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (1966) and a seventy-panel, 360-degree work for the Great Hall of Denver Public Library in Colorado (1995). Created as part of a public-art commission, The Back of Hollywood (1976–77) was made from a large sheet of sateen on a billboard and situated opposite the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, designed to be read in the rear-view mirror of a moving car.[33] In 1985 Ruscha was commissioned to design a series of fifty murals, WORDS WITHOUT THOUGHTS NEVER TO HEAVEN GO (a quotation from Hamlet), for the rotunda of Miami–Dade Public Library (now the Miami Art Museum) in Florida, designed by architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee.[34]

In 1998, Ruscha was commissioned to produce a nearly thirty-foot high vertical painting entitled PICTURE WITHOUT WORDS, for the lobby of the Harold M. Williams Auditorium of the Getty Center.[35] He produced another site-specific piece, three 13-by-23-foot panels proclaiming Words In Their Best Order, for the offices of Gannett Company publishers in Tysons Corner, Virginia, in 2002. The artist was later asked by the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum to create two large-scale paintings that flank his A Particular Kind of Heaven (1983), which is in the museum’s collection, to form a spectacular, monumental triptych.[36] For his first public commission in New York in 2014, Ruscha created the hand-painted mural Honey, I Twisted Through More Damn Traffic Today for a temporary installation at the High Line.[37]

In 2008, Ruscha was among four text-based artists that were invited by the Whitechapel Gallery to write scripts to be performed by leading actors; Ruscha's contribution was Public Notice (2007). To celebrate the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)'s 75th anniversary, Ruscha was one of the artists invited to collaborate with the museum on a limited-edition of artist-designed T-shirts.[38] Ruscha is regularly commissioned with works for private persons, among them James Frey (Public Stoning, 2007),[39] Lauren Hutton (Boy Meets Girl , 1987),[40] and Stella McCartney (Stella, 2001).[41] In 1987, collector Frederick Weisman had Ruscha paint the exterior of his private plane, a Lockheed JetStar. The summer 2012 campaign of L.A.-based fashion label Band of Outsiders featured Polaroid shots of Ruscha.[42]

Photography has played a crucial role throughout Ruscha’s career, beginning with images he made during a trip to Europe with his mother and brother in 1961, and most memorably as the imagery for more than a dozen books that present precisely what their titles describe. His photographs are straightforward, even deadpan,[46] in their depiction of subjects that are not generally thought of as having aesthetic qualities. His "Products" pictures, for example, feature boxes of Sunmaid raisins and Oxydol detergent and a can of Sherwin Williams turpentine in relatively formal still lifes.[47] Mostly devoid of human presence, these photographs emphasize the essential form of the structure and its placement within the built environment.[48]

Ruscha's photographic editions are most often based on his conceptual art-books of same or similar name. Ruscha re-worked the negatives of six of the images from his book Every Building on Sunset Strip. The artist then cut and painted directly on the negatives, resulting in photographs that have the appearance of a faded black-and-white film.[49] The Tropical Fish series (1974–75) represents the first instance where the photographic image has been directly used in his graphic work, where Ruscha had Gemini G.E.L.'s house photographer Malcolm Lubliner make photographs of a range of common domestic objects.[50]

In the 1970s, Ruscha also made a series of largely unknown short movies, such as Premium (1971) and Miracle (1975).[51] With the assistance of a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, Ruscha arranged in Premium a scenario which he first projected in his photo-book Crackers from 1969 and subsequently transformed into a film which features Larry Bell, Leon Bing, Rudi Gernreich, and Tommy Smothers. Miracle contains the essence of the artist's same-named painting, inasmuch as the story is told of a strange day in the life of an auto mechanic, who is magically transformed as he rebuilds the carburetor on a 1965 Ford Mustang.[52] The movie features Jim Ganzer and Michelle Phillips. In 1984, he accepted a small role in the film Choose Me directed by his friend Alan Rudolph, and in 2010, he starred in Doug Aitken's film Sleepwalkers.[53]

Ruscha was featured in Michael Blackwood's film documentary American Art in the Sixties. He appeared in L.A. Suggested by the Art of Edward Ruscha, a 1981 documentary by Gary Conklin shot at the artist's studio and desert home.[54] Interviews with Ruscha are included in the documentaries Dennis Hopper: The Decisive Moments (2002), Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005), The Cool School (2008), Iconoclasts (2008), and How to Make a Book with Steidl (2010), among others.[55]

In 1962 Ruscha's work was included, along with Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Robert Dowd, Phillip Hefferton, Joe Goode, Jim Dine, and Wayne Thiebaud, in the historically important and ground-breaking "New Painting of Common Objects," curated by Walter Hopps at the Pasadena Art Museum. This exhibition is historically considered one of the first "Pop Art" exhibitions in America.

Ruscha had his first solo exhibition in 1963 at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. In 1966, Ruscha was included in "Los Angeles Now" at the Robert Fraser Gallery in London, his first European exhibition. In 1968, he had his first European solo show in Cologne, Germany, at Galerie Rudolf Zwirner. Ruscha joined the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1970 and had his first solo exhibition there in 1973.[56]

Edward Ruscha, Wikipedia, Jan. 2017

Biography from Denis Bloch Fine Art
A painter, printmaker, and filmmaker, Edward Ruscha was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1937, and lived some 15 years in Oklahoma City before moving permanently to Los Angeles where he studied at the Chouinard Art Institute from 1956 through 1960.

By the early sixties he was well known for his paintings, collages, and printmaking, and for his association with the progressive Ferus Gallery, which also included artists Robert Irwin, Edward Moses, Ken Price, and Edward Kienholz.

Ruscha has consistently combined the cityscape of his adopted hometown with vernacular language to communicate a particular urban experience.  Encompassing painting, drawing, photography, and artist's books, Ruscha's work holds the mirror up to the banality of urban life and gives order to the barrage of mass media-fed images and information that confronts us daily. Ruscha's early career as a graphic artist continues to strongly influence his aesthetic and thematic approach.

In 1962, Ruscha's work was included, along with Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Robert Dowd, Phillip Hefferton, Joe Goode, Jim Dine, and Wayne Thiebaud, in the historically important and ground-breaking "New Painting of Common Objects," curated by Ferus Gallery alumni Walter Hopps at the Pasadena Art Museum.  This exhibition is historically considered one of the first Pop Art exhibitions in America.

Since 1964, Ruscha has been experimenting with painting and drawing words and phrases, often oddly comic and satirical sayings.  When asked where he got his inspiration for his paintings, Ruscha responded, "Well, they just occur to me; sometimes people say them and I write down and then I paint them.  Sometimes I use a dictionary."  From 1966 to 1969, Ruscha painted his "liquid word" paintings. Ruscha achieved recognition for his word paintings and for his many photographic books, all influenced by the deadpan irreverence of the Pop Art movement.

Born and raised Catholic, Ruscha readily admits to the influence of religion in his work.  He is also aware of the centuries-old tradition of religious imagery in which light beams have been used to represent divine presence.  But his work makes no claims for a particular moral position or spiritual attitude.

Ruscha has been the subject of numerous museum retrospectives that have traveled internationally, including those organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1982, the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1989, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 2000, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in 2002, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney in 2004.  Also in 2004, The Whitney Museum of American Art organized two simultaneous Ruscha exhibitions which traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

In 2001, Ruscha was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters as a member of the Department of Art.  Leave Any Information at the Signal, a volume of his writings and interviews, was published by MIT Press in 2002 and the first comprehensive monograph on the artist, Richard Marshall's Ed Ruscha, was published by Phaidon in 2003.  In 2005, Ruscha was the United States representative at the 51st Venice Biennale.  The traveling exhibition "Ed Ruscha, Photographer" opened at the Jeu de Paume in Paris in 2006. A major retrospective of Ruscha's works is scheduled for 2009 in London, England.

"Streets are like ribbons. They're like ribbons, and they're dotted with facts. Fact ribbons, I guess. That's potential subject matter to me, and so I take some things and I write them down and I look at them forever and forever and forever, and I might use something 10 years afterward that I had noticed before, you see."

Select Museum Collections:
Museum of Modern Art, NYC
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Whitney Museum, NYC
Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA
Norton Simon Museum, CA
Museum of Fine Arts Boston, MA
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
National Galleries of Scotland
Tate Gallery, London

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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About  Ed Ruscha

Born:  1937 - Omaha, Nebraska
Known for:  pop-word modeling illusions