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Edward Ruscha
Birth name Edward Joseph Ruscha IV
Born December 16, 1937 (1937-12-16) (age 72)
Omaha, Nebraska, United States
Nationality American
Field Photography, Printmaking, Film, book art
Training Chouinard Art Institute
Movement Pop art
Works Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights (1961)
Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966)
Standard Station (1966)
Awards Guggenheim Fellowship (1971)

Edward Ruscha ("roo-SHAY") (born December 16, 1937 Omaha, Nebraska) is an American artist associated with the Pop art movement. He has worked in the media of painting, printmaking, drawing, photography, and film.



Ed Ruscha was born into a Roman Catholic family 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 where he studied at the Chouinard Art Institute (now known as the California Institute of the Arts) from 1956 through 1960. 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 John Altoon, John McCracken, Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, Ken Price, and Edward Kienholz. Ruscha’s first solo exhibition in Leo Castelli gallery in New York opened in February 1973. He taught at UCLA as a visiting professor in 1969 and worked as layout designer for Artforum magazine under the pseudonym “Eddie Russia” from 1965 to 1969. He is also a life-long friend of guitarist Mason Williams. Famed muralist Kent Twitchell painted a mural to honor Ruscha entitled the Ed Ruscha monument in 1978.

He has two children, Edward "Eddie" Ruscha Jr. and Sonny Bjornson.

In 2006, Ruscha was named a trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in Los Angeles along with Susan Gersh and David Johnson. He has been included in eight special exhibits in the museum and is represented by 33 of his works in the permanent collection.[1]

Birth of "Pop Art"

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.


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.[2]


Education and influences

While in school in 1957, Ruscha chanced upon then unknown Jasper JohnsTarget 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."[3] In any case, "Art has to be something that makes you scratch your head," Ruscha said.

Southern California

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.

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 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.

Word paintings

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.

Odd media

In his drawings, prints, and paintings throughout the 1970s, Ruscha experimented with a range of materials including gunpowder, blood, 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 moiré and silks.

Motifs in light

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). In 2006, the Jeu de Paume in Paris hosted a major retrospective of his photographs.


Ruscha has published the following photographic books:

  • Twentysix Gasoline Stations, 1963
  • Various Small Fires, 1964
  • Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965
  • Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966
  • Thirtyfour Parking Lots, 1967
  • Royal Road Test, 1967
  • Business Cards, 1968
  • Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass, 1968
  • Crackers, 1969
  • Real Estate Opportunities, 1970
  • Babycakes, 1970
  • A Few Palm Trees, 1971
  • Records, 1971
  • Dutch Details, 1971
  • Colored People, 1972

Recent exhibitions

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.[4]


  1. ^ MoCA Names Ruscha to Board, ARTINFO, January 15, 2006,, retrieved 2008-04-17 
  2. ^ Edward Ruscha Biography, ARTINFO, 2008,, retrieved 2008-08-05 
  3. ^ Wells, Walter, Silent Theater: The Art of Edward Hopper, London/New York: Phaidon, 2007.
  4. ^ Douglas, Sarah. "In Retrospect: Ed Ruscha."Art+Auction, October 2009.
  • John Coplans, "New Paintings of Common Objects", Artforum, November, 1962. (Illustrations)
  • Alexandra Schwartz, ed. Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages by Ed Ruscha. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002.
  • Nancy Marmer, "Edward Ruscha at Ferus," Artforum, December, 1964.

External links


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