ARTIST ROOMS Ed Ruscha: Introduction

Portrait of Ed Ruscha

Portrait of Ed Ruscha by Danna Ruscha
Courtesy of the artist 

Born in 1937 in Omaha, Nebraska, Edward Ruscha was raised in Oklahoma City, where his family moved in 1941. In 1956 he moved to Los Angeles to study graphic design at the Chouinard Art Institute (now the California Institute of Arts). Ruscha came to prominence in the late 1950s when he began making small collages similar to those of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg and would have his first solo exhibition in 1963 at the Ferus Gallery.

Early in his career, Ruscha began to refine his collages, isolating and recombining words and images in increasingly subtle and unique ways. Because he drew upon sources from the everyday and embraced the techniques and imagery of commercial culture, his work is associated with pop art.

Ruscha used unconventional materials in his graphic work of the late 1960s and 1970s: he drew with gunpowder and painted and printed with foodstuffs and with a variety of organic substances such as blood and the medicine Pepto-Bismol. He is well known for his depiction of words and phrases and for the books he published of his series of deadpan photographs. Such work, characterised by there low-key humour, were influential in the development of conceptual art.

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 explores the banality of modern 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.

Ruscha has been the subject of numerous museum retrospectives that have travelled internationally, including those organised 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; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney in 2004; the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2004; and the Jeu de Paume in 2006. In 2005, Ruscha was the United States representative at the 51st Venice Biennale. In recent years exhibitions have included Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting 2009 at the Hayward Gallery, London, Ruscha: Road Tested 2011 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and On the Road 2011 at the Hammer Museum.

In July of 2012 the major exhibition, Reading Ed Ruscha opened at the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria.

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TateShots: Ed Ruscha