Ed Ruscha is an American painter, illustrator, photographer, and printmaker. Drawing upon the vernacular of Los Angeles and its landscape, he became one of the key figures of the Pop Art movement in the 1960s, producing a body of work that was immediately accessible but evaded conceptual simplicity.
Born into a family of Roman Catholics in December 1937, Edward Joseph Ruscha IV was the second child of an accountant for the Hartford Insurance Company; his mother was a housewife. He showed an early interest in drawing which, considering the era in which he was raised, directed itself towards cartooning — an activity that his mother encouraged and which endured into his adolescence.
Although he was born in Omaha, Nebraska, he spent most of his childhood and early teens in Oklahoma City. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1956, where Ruscha enrolled at the Chouinard Art Institute and spent the next four years under the tutelage of Emerson Woelffer and Robert Irwin, initially studying commercial design before shifting to fine arts. This change in focus was caused in part by his growing interest in the work of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Marcel Duchamp, the illustrations of Alvin Lustig and, inevitably, the movies.
The Legend Emerges
Upon graduation, Ruscha was employed as a layout artist by the Carson-Roberts Advertising Agency in Los Angeles but continued laboring on his own work in his free time. The influence of Hollywood and its pervasive imagery is evident throughout his oeuvre — his first major large-scale canvas, “Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights,” debuted in 1961 and depicted the 20th Century Fox logo stripped to its barest structure upon a black monotone. Similarly, the Paramount Pictures emblem is echoed in the images in his “Mountain” series, and as recently as 1991, Ruscha simulated the effect of damaged celluloid on his painting “The End.”
In 1962, he participated in the now-famous “New Painting of Common Objects” show at the Pasadena Art Museum, curated by Walter Hopps. His work was displayed along with Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Roy Lichtenstein, and Wayne Thiebaud, and the exhibition has historical significance as the first in Pop Art in America. A solo show at the Ferus Gallery in 1963 cemented his status as an artist of note, and his production during the 1960s was prolific. By the time “Every Building on the Sunset Strip” was published in 1966, Ruscha was well known for his printmaking and painting. The book, which was a collection of photographs capturing two miles of the eponymous avenue, was shot on a motorized camera — a technique he would reuse for his photographs of the Hollywood Boulevard in 1973.
Throughout the 1960s, Ruscha did other work to supplement his income. He worked for the magazine “Artforum” as a layout artist under the name Eddie Russia between 1965 and 1969, and occasionally served as a guest professor in printing and illustration at the University of California.
Appeal of the Dark
Ruscha remains one of the most active artists today, working within a variety of mediums, including film, fashion, and spoken word. He became famous for his images of Californian landscapes juxtaposed with tongue-in-cheek text, often using bizarre materials with which to execute his painting, such as blood, gunpowder, cherry pie, and tulips. His work often leans towards the absurd, and his penchant for challenging, dark comedy has made him an icon of 20th century art.
He lives and works in Culver City, California, with his wife Danna Knego, whom he married twice.
Date of Birth: December 16, 1937
Occupation: Painter, Photographer, Printmaker
Education: Choiunard Art Institute (now CalArts)
Works Exhibited At:
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Tate Gallery, London
Hirshhorn Museum of Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Art Institute of Chicago
The Natonal Gallery of Art, Washington DC
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh
Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach
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