Ed Ruscha

History Kids, 2013


73.7 × 71.1 cm

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I had a notion to make pictures by using words and presenting them in some way and it seemed like a mountain was an archetypal stage set. It was a perfect foil for whatever was happening in the foreground. —Ed Ruscha

Born in Nebraska and raised in Oklahoma City, Edward Ruscha was immediately staggered by the dazzling Los Angeles when he moved there in 1956 – the city has since been at the core of his inspiration. Ruscha depicts the ordinary under a universal point of view, spotlighting the Post War, American – specifically the Hollywoodesque, Southern Californian culture, in his artworks.

The print, created in 2014 for The Tate Modern Project and part of the Mountain Prints series (2010-), depicts a snow-covered mountain reflecting the golden light of the sunset behind it. The superimposed words and the highly saturated colours go against the glorious scene, presenting a playful, and almost kitsch view of the American landscape – which, to Ruscha, is no more than a mere background to the superimposed words.

History Kids is part of Ruscha’s well known body of work, where he puts words or sentences on top of a background generally featuring an iconic American landscape.

His practice integrates bodily fluids and unusual commodities such as blood, gunpowder, and Pepto Bismol, using them in prints as well as ink – elevating their subcultural significance and introducing them to the realm of fine arts. The inclusion of unconventional materials reinforces the ambivalence of Pop Art in its simultaneous acceptance and critique of popular culture; the visual simplicity allows the artwork to be more accessible while still being profound – distilling its often wry, and critical meaning with the use of simple graphics and a laconic written message. Those two powerful elements coexist on the same surface, creating visual tension – such tension has become a destination for the artist to reach with each lithograph, and, as Ruscha himself says:“[…] it’s where I live”.

the artist

Edward (Ed) Ruscha, born in 1937 in Omaha, Nebraska, lived in Oklahoma City for fifteen years before moving to Los Angeles, where he studied at the Chouinard Art Institute (now the California Institute of the Arts). The life on the West Coast has since been at the core of his artistic inspiration, and, eventually, by representing with a vibrant colour palette its glamourous and consumerist culture, Ed Ruscha became associated with the Pop Art movement.

Ruscha had originally intended to become a commercial artist, so, after graduating, he joined an advertising agency, starting his career first as a graphic designer. Having always been interested in the arts – specifically cartoon designs when he was a teenager – it was almost inevitable for him to expand his own artistic practice with photography, drawing, printmaking, and painting.

His art matured in opposition to the exhausted abstract expressionism, which approached the canvas with a more emotion-driven attitude. Conversely, Ruscha started to depict recognisable symbols and objects, but mainly words over a vibrant background, developing his signature style.

In 1963, Ed Ruscha published his first photobook: Twentysix Gasoline Stations – which, as suggested by the title, included twenty-six photographs of petrol stations on Route 66, between Los Angeles and Oklahoma City. In the same year, he went back to that same image numerous times to depict it with the method of screen printing, making the monumental artwork Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas. Based on one of the photographs in the book, eventually, the work established the gas station as one of Ruscha’s iconic subjects.

In the 1980s, the West Coast landscape moved to the background as Ruscha introduced the use of words in his lithographs: laconic messages, seemingly meaningless, are painted over simple, vibrant graphics of glorious scenes of mountain tops and of the sky. With his art, Ruscha doesn’t aim to reach the viewer to convey a message, but rather, he finds achievement in the tension between word and image and strives to reach a personal level of satisfaction – in his words, “Artists have to do things for themselves, and the audience is another thing”.

At over 80 years old, Ed Ruscha is a very active artist who has been consistently exhibiting his art at major institutions, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art – Los Angeles, the National Gallery of Art – Washington D.C., the Tate Modern – London to name but a few, and represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2005. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles.

“I had a notion to make pictures by using words and presenting them in some way and it seemed like a mountain was an archetypal stage set. It was a perfect foil for whatever was happening in the foreground.” – Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha
on Artuner

Part of the

March 22nd, 2018 until
April 24th, 2018
Curated by ARTUNER