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Ed Joseph (Edward) Ruscha

 (born 1937)
Ed Joseph (Edward) Ruscha is active/lives in California, Nebraska.  Ed Ruscha is known for pop-word modeling illusions.

Ed Joseph (Edward) Ruscha

    ROO-shuh    click to hear

Biography from the Archives of askART

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
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 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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Ed RuschaPop word illusions
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About  Ed Joseph (Edward) Ruscha

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