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.