Ed Ruscha, Photo: © Style Magazine

Ed Ruscha. Photo: Manfredi Gioacchini

 

Ed Ruscha (*1937) is one of the most eminent and influential postwar American artists and a pioneer of Pop and conceptual Art. At the core of his iconic oeuvre including painting and drawing, photography, film and artist’s books, is the combination of text and image. The California-based artist’s work takes playful aim at visual and linguistic clichés of popular culture, dismantling our accustomed ways of seeing to reveal flashes of beauty and sublimity in the seemingly banal.

 

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Ruscha’s painterly oeuvre derives from a perpetual expansion of the medium’s boundaries, often with recourse to visual strategies from advertising, graphic design and film. Early paintings from the first half of the 1960s show the artist breaking with Abstract Expressionism’s dogma of subjectivity to foreground ubiquitous brand logos or product packaging instead. Emphatically horizontal works including Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights (1962)—a monumental, deeply elongated rendering of the Twentieth-Century Fox logo—explore notions of landscape and the American West and recall widescreen CinemaScope film projections.

But the hallmark of his painting practice would soon be the incorporation of words and lettering, often in isolation against monochrome or graded color backgrounds. Works including OOF (1962) or Hollywood (1968) document shifts in the semiotic topography of their time and its cacophonous linguistic repertoire. Ruscha’s jarring use of text severed from its everyday context goes beyond reinventing the picture plane as a place for juxtaposing imagery and language. The conceptual space he creates also frees words from their overdetermined use in the media and everyday life, leaving them open to new associations in the mind of the viewer.

Much of the artist’s work since the 1970s involves a new type of picture that combines the illusory depth of landscape painting with the flat space of typography. At the center of these works are familiar-sounding, often tongue-in-cheek phrases and short sentences that could be described as “readymade” language from media, music, literature and advertising. Since the 1980s, these words have almost always appeared in a plain, functional font that Ruscha designed himself and ironically refers to as Boy Scout Utility Modern. The backgrounds of these works usually consist in sections of sky, nocturnal cityscapes or snowy mountain peaks—almost generic-looking images that nevertheless exude a kind of dim majesty. While paintings such as Not a Bad World, Is It? (1984) or Daily Planet (2003) seem to try to secularize transcendental emotions, others including his The End series (ongoing since 1991) engage with social and societal decay.

Ruscha’s output also includes highly influential artist’s books featuring his own photographs, most prominently Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) and Some Los Angeles Apartments (1965). The images collected in these publications also formed the basis for many of his immensely skillful, luminous drawings—works-on-paper for which the artist uses cotton pads and Q-tips to deftly apply gunpowder and ground pastels to rag paper. He has also experimented with such unconventional drawing media as the American medicine Pepto-Bismol, hot sauce, blood, fruit and vegetable juices, egg yolks, grass, caviar, chocolate or rose petals, and with supports including silk, satin or moire.

With visual elegance and a great deal of humor, Ruscha’s work shifts focus to what might be called the background noise of popular culture: to that which has become so ordinary as to escape notice, to what the artist himself once described as cultural “detritus.” His subtly anarchic approach reshuffles the codes that define our relationship to the present, injecting freedom into our usual habits of perception.

 

 

 

Ed Ruscha: Words Have No Size
Ed Ruscha interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner at his studio in Los Angeles in January 2016.
© Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, 2016

Works
Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha
Untitled (Many Signs), 2004

Ed Ruscha
Untitled (Many Signs), 2004
Acrylic on canvas
122 × 244 cm
48 × 96 inches

Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha
Gator, 2014

Ed Ruscha
Gator, 2014
Acrylic on canvas
61 × 116.8 cm
24 × 46 inches

Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha
Metro Mattress #4, 2015

Ed Ruscha
Metro Mattress #4, 2015
Acrylic and pencil on museum board paper
102 × 152.5 cm
40 1/8 × 60 inches

More views
Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha
American Tool Supply, 2001

Ed Ruscha
American Tool Supply, 2001
Acrylic on canvas
208.3 × 304.8 cm
82 × 120 inches

Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha
Houston to Miami, 1999

Ed Ruscha
Houston to Miami, 1999
Acrylic on canvas
137.2 × 304.8 cm
54 × 120 inches

More views
Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha
Woman on Fire, 1990

Ed Ruscha
Woman on Fire, 1990
Acrylic on canvas
91.4 × 121.9 cm
36 1/8 × 48 inches

Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha
The End #28, 2003

Ed Ruscha
The End #28, 2003
Acrylic and ink on paper
61 × 76.2 cm
24 × 30 inches

Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha
Stress, 1983

Ed Ruscha
Stress, 1983
Oil on canvas
228.6 × 335.3 cm
90 × 132 inches

More views
Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha
She Didn't Have to Do That, 1974

Ed Ruscha
She Didn't Have to Do That, 1974
Blood on satin
91.4 × 101.6 cm
36 × 40 inches

More views
Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha
Era Ends, 1986

Ed Ruscha
Era Ends, 1986
Oil and enamel on canvas
162.6 × 162.6 cm
64 × 64 inches

Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha
Hurry up schedule, 2002

Ed Ruscha
Hurry up schedule, 2002
Acrylic on canvas
137 × 153 cm
54 × 60 1/4 inches

Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha
Devil or Angel, 1973

Ed Ruscha
Devil or Angel, 1973
Red cabbage on canvas
137.2 × 152.4 cm
54 × 60 inches

Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha
Hollywood, 1968

Ed Ruscha
Hollywood, 1968
Gouache and silkscreen on paper
31.4 × 103.8 cm
12 3/8 × 40 7/8 inches

Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha
Whiskers, 1972

Ed Ruscha
Whiskers, 1972
Gunpowder and pastel on paper
29.2 × 73.6 cm
11 1/2 × 29 inches

Details
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Untitled (Many Signs), 2004
Acrylic on canvas
122 × 244 cm
48 × 96 inches

Ed Ruscha
Untitled (Many Signs), 2004
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Gator, 2014
Acrylic on canvas
61 × 116.8 cm
24 × 46 inches

Ed Ruscha
Gator, 2014
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Metro Mattress #4, 2015
Acrylic and pencil on museum board paper
102 × 152.5 cm
40 1/8 × 60 inches

Ed Ruscha
Metro Mattress #4, 2015
Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Metro Mattress #4, 2015 (detail)

Ed Ruscha
Metro Mattress #4, 2015
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
American Tool Supply, 2001
Acrylic on canvas
208.3 × 304.8 cm
82 × 120 inches

Ed Ruscha
American Tool Supply, 2001
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Houston to Miami, 1999
Acrylic on canvas
137.2 × 304.8 cm
54 × 120 inches

Ed Ruscha
Houston to Miami, 1999
Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Houston to Miami, 1999 (detail)

Ed Ruscha
Houston to Miami, 1999
Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Houston to Miami, 1999 (detail)

Ed Ruscha
Houston to Miami, 1999
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Woman on Fire, 1990
Acrylic on canvas
91.4 × 121.9 cm
36 1/8 × 48 inches

Ed Ruscha
Woman on Fire, 1990
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
The End #28, 2003
Acrylic and ink on paper
61 × 76.2 cm
24 × 30 inches

Ed Ruscha
The End #28, 2003
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Stress, 1983
Oil on canvas
228.6 × 335.3 cm
90 × 132 inches

Ed Ruscha
Stress, 1983
Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Stress (Dean no. P1983.17), 1983 (detail)

Ed Ruscha
Stress (Dean no. P1983.17), 1983
Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Stress (Dean no. P1983.17), 1983 (detail)

Ed Ruscha
Stress (Dean no. P1983.17), 1983
Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Stress (Dean no. P1983.17), 1983 (detail)

Ed Ruscha
Stress (Dean no. P1983.17), 1983
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
She Didn't Have to Do That, 1974
Blood on satin
91.4 × 101.6 cm
36 × 40 inches

Ed Ruscha
She Didn't Have to Do That, 1974
Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
She Didn't Have to Do That, 1974 (detail)

Ed Ruscha
She Didn't Have to Do That, 1974
Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
She Didn't Have to Do That, 1974 (detail)

Ed Ruscha
She Didn't Have to Do That, 1974
Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
She Didn't Have to Do That, 1974 (detail)

Ed Ruscha
She Didn't Have to Do That, 1974
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Era Ends, 1986
Oil and enamel on canvas
162.6 × 162.6 cm
64 × 64 inches

Ed Ruscha
Era Ends, 1986
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Hurry up schedule, 2002
Acrylic on canvas
137 × 153 cm
54 × 60 1/4 inches

Ed Ruscha
Hurry up schedule, 2002
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Devil or Angel, 1973
Red cabbage on canvas
137.2 × 152.4 cm
54 × 60 inches

Ed Ruscha
Devil or Angel, 1973
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Hollywood, 1968
Gouache and silkscreen on paper
31.4 × 103.8 cm
12 3/8 × 40 7/8 inches

Ed Ruscha
Hollywood, 1968
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Whiskers, 1972
Gunpowder and pastel on paper
29.2 × 73.6 cm
11 1/2 × 29 inches

Ed Ruscha
Whiskers, 1972
Details
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Current and Upcoming

Ed Ruscha
Travel Log
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Sonoma
September 26, 2020–January 03, 2021

Rarely seen black and white photographs from Ruscha’s frequent trips from L.A. to Oklahoma in the 1960s reveal inspirations for his iconic prints and paintings, including images of gas stations, diners and the streets of rural towns like Gallup, new Mexico and Winslow, Arizona. Also featured are color lithographs from his well-known “word paintings” series that mix visual formality with playful language.

Link
Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha, That Was Then This Is Now, 2014 © Ed Ruscha
Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
Metro Mattresses
November 3, 2015–January 16, 2016
Berlin

"The mattresses become not just litter in the landscape but more like scary animals."

– Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha has been casting his eye across the landscapes of the American west for over 50 years, taking in everything from gas stations to swimming pools to sublime mountain ranges. With their clarity and deadpan wit, his photographs, drawings and paintings impart a mood of playful awe on everyday monuments. The motifs for his new series Metro Mattresses were found, like so many of the subjects of his work, on the streets of Los Angeles.

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Ed Ruscha

Source Codes
Kenneth Anger, Richard Artschwager, John Baldessari, Bruce Conner, Richard Hamilton, David Lamelas, Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, Lucas Samaras, John Stezaker, Paul Thek
June 26–August 29, 2009
Berlin

Source Codes juxtaposes a selection of works by a number of artists and filmmakers from Europe and America who mapped essential conceptual groundwork in the 1960s and 1970s and whose work remains influential to many artists today By examining new ways to rethink and translate visual information and cultural codes in the gaps between Minimalism and Pop Art, and through an interest in process-based performative practice, their work has exerted significant influence on younger artists in a variety of ways.

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Ed Ruscha
With and Without Words
October 31, 2002–February 28, 2003
Cologne

Ed Ruscha is one of the first Americans to criticize the mechanisms and means of pop culture in his work by making use of its means and visual language. In this way, he also paid homage to precisely these visual languages, on whose effectiveness and recognition effect he could and can rely. Furthermore, he is one of the protagonists in relation to the examination of language in the visual arts, as is already explicitly stated in the title of the Munich exhibition, because pictures are exhibited "with and without words".

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Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
With and Without Words
September 13–October 19, 2002
Munich

"Hints of narrow pop culture meanings in conventionally insignificant elements and vice versa are the actual material (…) with which Ruscha deals with what has become classic and casual."

-Diederich Diederichsen

Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers are pleased to present new pictures and works on paper by Ed Ruscha. He is one of the first Americans to criticize the mechanisms and means of pop culture in his work by making use of its means and visual language. In this way, he also paid homage to precisely these visual languages, on whose effectiveness and recognition effect he could and can rely.

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Ed Ruscha
Gunpowder and Stains
May 6–June 17, 2000
Munich

Lettering in pictures immediately raises the question as to what the rest of the picture is meant to be doing. If it were only a "blank page", it would after all not be a picture any more. That which in relationship only to a figure that could only express anything through its visual form must now also establish a relationship to a figure that consists both of a form – the typography – and of a code defined clearly by convention namely writing, which also has a relationship to this codedness. Are they merely carriers of a sign, perhaps, and thus purely servile? Or the residual representatives of the pictorial principle, and thus principally non-code, but also a non-blank page?

-Diedrich Diederichsen

Ed Ruscha
Press

Putting into words his Oklahoma roots
The New York Times International Edition, article by M.H.Miller, January 17, 2020

Colony of Errors: Ciarán Finlayson on Thomas Cole and Ed Ruscha
Artforum International, article by Ciarán Finlayson, November 3, 2018

Ed Ruscha Still Has Plenty More to Say About America
Vanity Fair, article by Mark Rozzo, May 30, 2018

“I am wide awake when I see artist books.”
The Believer, article by Stephanie LaCava, January 25, 2017

Artistic Licence – Los Angeles
Monocle, article by Robert Bound, December 2015–January 2016

Ed Ruscha
Interview, interview by Sterling Ruby, September 7, 2016

Hollywood auf dem Kopf
Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, article by Boris Pofalla, November 8, 2015

Biography

Ed Ruscha (*1937, Omaha, NE) lives and works in Los Angeles. Recent solo exhibitions include Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX (2020), Secession, Vienna (2019), National Gallery, London, Louisiana Art Museum, Humlebæk, and KODE Art Museum and Composer Homes, Bergen (all 2018), and de Young Museum, San Francisco (2016). In 2009, the major retrospective Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting opened in London’s Hayward Gallery and traveled through Europe to Haus der Kunst, Munich and Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Education
1956–60 Chouinard Art Institute (i.e. California Institute of the Arts)
1955 U.S. Navy Reserves
1948 Painting class of Richard Goetz
Teaching
1969 Visiting professor, University of California, Los Angeles
Awards, Grants and Fellowships
2006 Trustee, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
2001 Member of the Department of Art, The American Academy of Arts and Letters
1978 National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC
1974 Medal for Graphics, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, ME
1971 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship
1969 Fellowship, Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Los Angeles
1969 National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC
1967 Award in Painting, National Council on the Arts
1956 First Prize, Graphic Design, Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce
Public Collections
Denver Art Museum
Deutsches Postmuseum, Frankfurt
Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, Los Angeles
High Museum, Atlanta
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC
Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN
Israel Museum, Tel Aviv
Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach
Lannan Foundation, Los Angeles
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Metro-Dade Art in Public Places Collection, Miami
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Museum Brandhorst Bayerischen Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Musée Departemental des Voges, Epinal
Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Musée St. Pierre, Lyon
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach, CA
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena
Oklahoma Arts and Humanities Council, Oklahoma City
Pomona College
Reynolds House, Winston-Salem, NC
San Diego Museum of Art
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Tate, London
The Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi, TX
The Irvine Company Collection, Irvine, CA
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC
The Panza di Biumo Collection, Milan
The Security Pacific Corporation, Los Angeles
The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT