Edward Joseph Ruscha IV (born December 16, 1937) is an American artist associated with the Pop art movement. He has worked in the media of painting, printmaking, drawing, photography, and film. Ruscha lives and works in Venice, California and in Yucca Valley, Mojave Desert.
Ruscha was born into a Roman Catholic family in Omaha, Nebraska, with a younger sister, Shelby, and a younger brother, Paul. Edward Ruscha, Sr. was an auditor for Hartford Insurance Company. Ruscha's mother was supportive of her son's early signs of artistic skill and interests. Young Ruscha was attracted to cartooning and would sustain this interest throughout his adolescent years. Though born in Nebraska, Ruscha lived some 15 years in Oklahoma City before moving to Los Angeles in 1956 where he studied at the Chouinard Art Institute (now known as the California Institute of the Arts) under Robert Irwin and Emerson Woelffer from 1956 through 1960. Ruscha spent much of the summer of 1961 traveling through Europe. After graduation, Ruscha took a job as a layout artist for the Carson-Roberts Advertising Agency in Los Angeles. He was married to Danna Knego from 1967 to 1972.
By the early 1960s he was well known for his paintings, collages, and photographs, and for his association with the Ferus Gallery group, which also included artists Robert Irwin, John Altoon, John McCracken, Larry Bell, Ken Price, and Edward Kienholz. He worked as layout designer for Artforum magazine under the pseudonym "Eddie Russia" from 1965 to 1969 and taught at UCLA as a visiting professor for printing and drawing in 1969. He is also a life-long friend of guitarist Mason Williams.
He has two children, Edward "Eddie" Ruscha Jr. and Sonny Bjornson.
He achieved recognition for paintings incorporating words and phrases and for his many photographic books, all influenced by the deadpan irreverence of the Pop Art movement. Ruscha's textual, flat paintings have been linked with both the Pop Art movement and the beat generation.
While in school in 1957, Ruscha chanced upon then unknown Jasper Johns' Target with Four Faces in the magazine Print and was greatly moved. Ruscha has credited these artists' work as sources of inspiration for his change of interest from graphic arts to painting. He was also impacted by Arthur Dove's 1925 painting Goin' Fishin', Alvin Lustig's cover illustrations for New Directions Press, and much of Marcel Duchamp's work. In a 1961 tour of Europe, Ruscha came upon more works by Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, R. A. Bertelli's Head of Mussolini, and Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais. Some critics are quick to see the influence of Edward Hopper's "Gas" in Ruscha's 1963 oil painting, "Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas." In any case, "Art has to be something that makes you scratch your head," Ruscha said.
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 book Every Building on the Sunset Strip, a book of continuous photographs of a two and one half mile stretch of the 24 mile boulevard. Also, paintings like Standard Station, Large Trademark, and Hollywood 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 depicts the 20th Century Fox logo, while the dimensions of this work are reminiscent of a movie screen; in his painting The End these two words, which comprised the final shot in all black and white films, are surrounded by scratches and streaks reminiscent of damaged celluloid.
Ruscha completed Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights in 1961, one year after graduating from college. Among his first paintings (Su, Sweetwater, Vicksburg) 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 and Wonder Bread. 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. 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.
The very first of Ed Ruscha's word paintings were created in Paris in 1961. 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) feature single words depicted in a trompe l'oeil technique, as if the words are formed from ribbons of curling paper. In the 1970s, Ruscha, with Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, among others, began using entire phrases in his works, thereby making it a distinctive characteristic of the post-Pop Art generation. In the early 1980s he produced a series of paintings of words over sunsets, night skies and wheat fields. Later, words appeared on a photorealist mountain-range series which Ruscha started producing in 1998.
From 1980, Ruscha started using an all-caps typeface of his own invention named "Boy Scout Utility Modern".
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, and grass stains. 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. Ruscha has also produced his word paintings with food products on moire and silks, since they were more stain-absorbent.
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 and 99% DEVIL, 1% ANGEL. 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 murals at the the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, in 1966 and the Great Hall of Denver Public Library in Colorado. In 1985 Ruscha was commissioned to design a series of fifty murals for the rotunda of Miami-Dade Public Library (now the Miami Art Museum) in Florida, designed by architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee.
In 1998, Ruscha was commissioned to produce a large painting. PICTURE WITHOUT WORDS, for the lobby of the Harold M. Williams Auditorium of the Getty Center. The artist was later commissioned 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. In 2008, he was among four text-based artists that were asked 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 a limited-edition artist-designed T-shirt. Ruscha is regularly commissioned with works for private persons, among them James Frey (Public Stoning, 2007), Lauren Hutton (Boy Meets Girl , 1987), and Stella McCartney (Stella). In 1987, collector Frederick Weisman commissioned Ruscha to paint the exterior of his private plane, a Lockheed JetStar.
Between 1962 and 1978, Ed Ruscha produced eighteen small artist's books:
Twentysix Gasoline Stations, 1962
Various Small Fires, 1964
Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965
Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966
Thirtyfour Parking Lots, 1967
Royal Road Test, 1967 (with Mason Williams and Patrick Blackwell)
Business Cards, 1968
Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass, 1968
Real Estate Opportunities, 1970
A Few Palm Trees, 1971
Dutch Details, 1971
Colored People, 1972
Hard Light, 1978 (with Lawrence Weiner)
Later book projects include:
Country Cityscapes, 2001
ME and THE, 2002
Ed Ruscha and Photography, 2004 (with Sylvia Wolf)
OH / NO, 2008
Dirty Baby, 2011 (with Nels Cline and David Breskin)
Leave Any Information at the Signal, a volume of Ruscha's writings, was published by MIT Press in 2002. In 2010, Gagosian Gallery and Steidl published Ruscha's version of Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road in an edition of 350.
In the 1970s, Ruscha also made a series of largely unknown short movies, such as Premium (1971) and Miracle (1975). 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. The movie features Jim Ganzer and Michelle Phillips.
In 1984, Ruscha accepted a small role in the film Choose Me directed by his friend Alan Rudolph. An interview with Ruscha is included in the documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005). In 2010, he starred in Doug Aitken's film Sleepwalkers.
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.
In 1970 Ruscha represented the United States at the Biennale as part of a survey of American printmaking with an on-site workshop. He constructed Chocolate Room, a visual and sensory experience where the visitor saw 360 pieces of paper permeated with chocolate and hung like shingles. The pavilion in Venice smelled like a chocolate factory. Ruscha was the United States representative at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005, showing the site-and occasion-specific a painting cycle Course of Empire.
He has been the subject of numerous museum retrospectives, beginning in 1983 with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1989, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 2000, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in 2001. In 2004, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney mounted a selection of the artist's photographs, paintings, books and drawings that traveled to the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo, Rome and to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
In 1998, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles organized a retrospective solely devoted to Ruscha's works on paper. In 2004, The Whitney Museum of American Art exhibited a second Ruscha drawing retrospective, which traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and then to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
In 2006, an exhibition of Ruscha's photographs was organized for the Jeu de Paume in Paris, the Kunsthaus Zurich, and the Museum Ludwig in Cologne.
In October 2009, London's Hayward Gallery featured the first retrospective to focus exclusively on Ruscha's canvases. Entitled "Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting," the exhibition sheds light on his influences, such as comics, graphic design, and hitchhiking. The exhibition travelled to Haus der Kunst, Munich, and the Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
In 2003, Ed Ruscha curated "Emerson Woelffer: A Solo Flight", a survey of the work of the late Los Angeles-based Abstract Expressionist, for the inaugural exhibition of the Gallery at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater).
In 2001, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco acquired the entire archive of Ruscha's 325 prints and 800 working proofs. The museum bought the archive and negotiated for impressions of future prints with a $10 million. In 2003, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles acquired the Chocolate Room, then worth about $1.5 million. In 2004, the Whitney Museum acquired more than 300 photographs through a purchase and gift from the artist, making it the principal repository of Ruscha's photographic oevre. The gift, purchased from Larry Gagosian, includes more than 300 vintage photographs that Ruscha took on a seven-month European tour in 1961. In 2005, Leonard A. Lauder purchased The Old Tool & Die Building (2004) and The Old Trade School Building (2005) for the Whitney, both of which were part of "The Course of Empire: Paintings by Ed Ruscha" at the Venice Biennale. Ruscha is represented by 33 of his works in the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden has 21 Ruschas in its permanent collection. Private collections holding substantial numbers of Ruscha's work include the Broad Collection and the UBS Art Collection.
Famed muralist Kent Twitchell painted a 11,000-square-foot mural in Downtown Los Angeles to honor Ruscha entitled the Ed Ruscha Monument between 1978 and 1987. The mural was preserved until 2006 when it was illegally painted over.
In 2001, Ruscha was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters as a member of the Department of Art. In 2004 he was elected an Honorary Royal Academician of London's Royal Academy of Arts. He was honored with the cultural prize of the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Photographie (DGPh, 'German Society for Photography') in 2006, the Aspen Award for Art in 2008, and the National Arts Award for Artistic Excellence in 2009.
In 2006, Ruscha was named a trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in Los Angeles where he had previously been included in eight special exhibits.
In 2009, Ruscha's I Think I'll... (1983) from the collection of the National Gallery was installed at the White House. In 2010, during British prime minister David Cameron's first visit to Washington, President Barack Obama presented him with a signed lithograph by Ruscha, Column With Speed Lines, chosen for its red, white and blue colours.
At the start of the seventies, Ruscha began showing his work with Leo Castelli in New York. Castelli paid him a stipend, only rarely able to sell anything. Only at an exhibition of Ruscha's spray-gun silhouette paintings at the Robert Miller Gallery, New York, in 1986 he sold out a show. He currently shows with the Gagosian Gallery in New York, Beverly Hills and London; John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco; and Spruth Magers in Berlin.
As early as 2002, the oil on canvas Talk About Space (1963), a takeoff on the American billboard in which a single word is the subject, was expected to sell for $1.5 million to $2 million from a private European collection. It was eventually sold for $3.5 million at Christie's in New York, a record for the artist. In 2008, Eli Broad acquired Ruscha's painting Desire (1969) for $2.4 million at Sotheby's, which back then was 40 percent under the $4 million low estimate. Angry Because It’s Plaster, Not Milk from 1965, which had been shown at Ferus Gallery that year, was later sold by Halsey Minor to Gagosian Galleryfor $3.2 million at Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, in 2010.