Collections> Browse Edward Ruscha

Collections> Browse Edward Ruscha

Edward Ruscha
Holdings (71)
1 painting, 1 unique works on paper, 1 books,edition prints/proof, 43 edition prints/proofs, 21 books, 1 poster, 1 photograph, 1 film, 1 videotapes/videodisc

Wikipedia About Edward Ruscha

Edward Joseph Ruscha IV (roo-SHAY; 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 Culver City, California. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Edward Ruscha, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Edward Ruscha has long been an influential voice in postwar American painting as well as one of contemporary art’s most significant graphic artists. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1937 and raised in Oklahoma City, Ruscha left for Los Angeles in 1956 to study commercial art.1 He abandoned this discipline for painting soon after, but nonetheless found the techniques of layout, lettering, and illustration to be a significant influence on his work. As an Oklahoman, he was able to see Los Angeles through the eyes of an outsider, and to document in his art the ethos of this modern, sprawling metropolis that has a vernacular all its own. To many, his work epitomizes aspects of a Los Angeles sensibility, thriving on popular culture, illusionism, and a sense of nostalgia. Though Ruscha emerged at a time when a number of art movements were appearing on the American scene, he developed to the side of any particular group, bringing to his work a synthesis of the ideas behind Surrealism, Pop, and Conceptual Art.

Ruscha’s paintings, drawings, and prints blend the humorous with the odd, the beautiful with the unexpected, the clever with the mundane. Language is always a point of departure. Many images portray words as curious physical entities, or present bits of language that stand as provocative texts on their own. Others feature common objects floating in enigmatic voids of lush color, or depict archetypal emblems culled from film and fiction. He is also known for experimentation and has used such substances as chocolate, gunpowder, or spinach in place of traditional pigments.

Ruscha first gained attention in the early 1960s for his paintings and drawings depicting popular icons, including the Hollywood sign, and single words such as “flash,” “boss,” and “ace.” By this time, he had also begun to make books, including Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963), a series of no-frills black-and-white photographs documenting twenty-six filling stations along Route 66 between Oklahoma City and Los Angeles. This book, and the fifteen small paperbacks that followed, were like nothing the art world had seen before. With deadpan titles such as Every Building on the Sunset Strip, the books catalogued some of the many banal items and locations that dot the American landscape. These works are now considered pivotal to the history of the artist’s book and to the beginnings of contemporary conceptual photography.

Ruscha has continued to use pointed, isolated words as visual subjects. “I love the language,” he remarked in 1969. “Words have temperatures… . When they reach a certain point and become hot words, then they appeal to me.”2 He first rendered letters as three-dimensional entities in the 1962 painting Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights (which featured the 20th Century Fox logo), and later used this device to create the illusion of words made from ribbon or folded paper. In 1967, he began exploring the notion of “liquid words.” The Walker Art Center’s painting Steel (1967–1969), like others from this period, such as Jelly (1967) and Rancho (1968), uses a single word chosen as much for its evocative power as for its phonetic qualities. In Steel, the word functions as a found object, made more palpable by the trompe l’oeil rendering of the letterforms, which seem to have emerged from a viscous substance resembling motor oil.3 An image of an unexpected, ball bearing–like object (perhaps made of steel), painted at actual size, drifts into the left edge of the picture field as if to provide instant scale. Ruscha has always embraced the non sequitur, remarking that “often when an idea is so overwhelming, I use a small unlike item to ‘nag’ the theme.”4

Since 1959, works on paper have also been a central part of Ruscha’s practice. He has made an extensive body of drawings in pastel and various powdered materials, such as the dry pigment drawing Double Hear Me? (1986), and has published editioned prints both independently and with a wide range of international graphics workshops. A significant concentration of the prints resides in the Walker’s collection, ranging from the iconic Standard Station (1966), the artist’s first silkscreen; to News, Mews, Pews, Brews, Stews & Dues (1970), a pivotal portfolio in which the artist used such ingredients as coffee, squid ink, axel grease, and caviar in place of traditional printing inks; to a 1999 series of editioned photographs based on his 1967 book Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles.

Through his paintings, drawings, prints, books, and occasional forays into multiples and narrative film, Ruscha has created works uniquely American in both subject and sensibility. He has found language and its visual and psychic repercussions to be a forum for prolific innovation, and in his work continually offers unexpected ways by which to examine our culture.

  1. Ruscha studied industrial and graphic design at Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) in Los Angeles from 1956 to 1960.

  2. Ruscha in “Words with Ruscha,” interview by Howardena Pindell, The Print Collector’s Newsletter 3, no. 6 (January–February 1973): 126.

  3. “My ‘romance’ with liquids,” Ruscha remarked in 1982, “came about because I was looking for some sort of alternative entertainment for myself—an alternative from the rigid, hard-edge painting of words that had to respect some typographical design. These didn’t—there were no rules about how a letter had to be formed. It was my sandbox to play in. I could make an ‘o’ stupid or I could make it hopeless or any way I wanted and it would still be an ‘o.’” Quoted in Patricia Failing, “Ed Ruscha, Young Artist: Dead Serious about Being Nonsensical,” Artnews 81 (April 1982): 80.

  4. Ruscha, in Barbara Radice, “Interview with Ed Ruscha,” Flash Art 54–55 (May 1975): 49.

Engberg, Siri. “Edward Ruscha.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center