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b. 1937, USA

Ed Ruscha Biography

Best known for his word paintings, since the 1950s Ed Ruscha has been examining the iconography of popular culture and emblems of Americana through drawings, paintings, prints, photographs, and artist's books often characterised by the use of bold typefaces and bright colours. Associated with Pop art due to his use of commercial techniques and subject matter, Ruscha is often compared to artists such as Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana, while the examination of the American ethos in his works has also been compared to the works of Jasper Johns, one of his earliest influences.

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Ruscha was born in Omaha but raised in Oklahoma City. In 1956, he relocated to Los Angeles to attend the Chouinard Art Institute (now known as California Institute of the Arts) to study commercial art. While the ethos of Abstract Expressionism was dominant at the Institute, his early paintings depict household objects such as cigarettes (Cigarettes, 1956) and cans of Spam (Actual Size, 1962). While a student, the artist earned money by painting labels on signs by hand: early practice for the textual motifs he would come to be known for. His first word painting, E.Ruscha (1959), depicted the artist's name in roughly applied black and red oil paint. Subsequent text-based works from the era typically bore one word such as 'smash' or 'noise' on a monochromatic background, and were mostly freehand drawings covered with oil paint.

After graduating, Ruscha remained in California, a locale that would become a central influence on his art, seen in his use of bright, expressive colours and examinations of American consumerism. Such interests were compounded by the artist's working at California commercial ad agencies, as was his penchant for scale and design. In one of his most iconic pieces, the 1966 screenprint Standard Station, he depicted a Standard Oil gas station in flat, bright colours with a bold gradient background. The gas station is an important motif for the artist, symbolising a mundane but classically American landscape. This motif would inspire his book Twentysix Gasoline Stations in 1963, which comprises photographs of gas stations taken across the south-western United States and is considered one of the first modern artist's books.

In the latter half of the 1960s, Ruscha began work on his 'liquid word' series, which bore single words printed in trompe l'oeil lettering that mimicked the appearance of spilled fluid. For the backgrounds of these works, the artist often utilised the 'split fountain' technique, which entails combining two or more colours of ink before applying them to the paper, creating a smooth gradient effect. While visually evoking by-then clichéd, sunny imaginings of 20th-century California, this practice also spoke to the artist's background in advertising, as at the time the method was more commonly used in commercial art than fine art.

Humour and the absurd has long played an important role in Ruscha's artwork. A distinctly Surrealist influence can be seen in works from the 1960s, such as Angry Because it's Plaster, Not Milk (1965), which depicts an oversized bird next to a much smaller cup of plaster. Extending this playfulness into material form, in the late 1960s he began to incorporate non-traditional substances into his two-dimensional works. In the 1969 portfolio of prints Stains, the artist utilised egg yolk, beer, salad dressing, and his own blood to create the works on paper. Similarly, for the canvas Dance? (1973) he used coffee, egg white, chili sauce, cheese, and several other foodstuffs to write 'Dance?' on a white background. In the late 1960s, his accidental discovery of gunpowder's potential for artistic use resulted in a series of delicate trompe l'oeil drawings made by applying the dust with cotton balls and swabs.

By the mid-1970s, Ruscha began to incorporate entire phrases—such as ARTISTS WHO MAKE "PIECES" (1976) and HOLLYWOOD TANTRUM (1979)—in bold sans-serif white lettering onto colourful backgrounds. Font choice has always been important to his work; in the 1980s, the artist developed his own typeface, entitled Boy Scout Utility Modern and inspired by the letters of the Hollywood sign.

Today, Ruscha continues to examine the role of text in art, placing his signature font over photorealistic painted landscapes, as seen in works such as the large-scale acrylic painting Tulsa Slut (2016). In 2009, he published an artist's book version of Jack Kerouac's On the Road. He later mounted an exhibition at The Hammer Museum of works featuring his characteristic backgrounds of snow-capped mountains overlaid with key phrases from On the Road. In 2016, the de Young museum in San Francisco mounted a significant show of his works entitled Ed Ruscha and the Great American West. His artworks also appear in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Tate in London, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Ruscha currently lives and works in Culver City, California.

Ocula | 2019

Ed Ruscha, Hardscrabble (2020) (detail). Acrylic on canvas. 81.3 × 122 cm. © Ed Ruscha. Courtesy Gagosian.

Ed Ruscha Featured Artworks

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Holloween by Ed Ruscha contemporary artwork
Ed RuschaHolloween, 1977Pastel on paper
20 x 74 cm
Pace Gallery
She didn't Have to do that by Ed Ruscha contemporary artwork
Ed RuschaShe didn't Have to do that, 1974Blood on satin
91.4 x 101.6 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire
Vacant Lots by Ed Ruscha contemporary artwork
Ed RuschaVacant Lots, 1970/2003Suite of 4 silver gelatin prints
22 x 22 inches
Bruce Silverstein Contact Gallery
Industrial Village by Ed Ruscha contemporary artwork
Ed RuschaIndustrial Village, 1982Pastel on paper
96.5 x 127 cm
Gagosian Contact Gallery
“Baked Potato” by Ed Ruscha contemporary artwork
Ed Ruscha“Baked Potato”, 1962Oil, ink, and collage on paper
12 x 11.5 inches
Almine Rech Contact Gallery
Girl's Voice Hollywood by Ed Ruscha contemporary artwork
Ed RuschaGirl's Voice Hollywood, 1978Marker ink on paper
29.2 x 73.7 cm
Galerie Gmurzynska Contact Gallery
Stress (Dean no. P1983.17) by Ed Ruscha contemporary artwork
Ed RuschaStress (Dean no. P1983.17), 1983Oil painting on canvas
90 x 132 inches
Sprüth Magers Enquire

Ed Ruscha Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Ed Ruscha, Paintings at Gagosian, West 24th Street, New York
Open Now
14 November 2020–23 January 2021 Ed Ruscha Paintings GagosianWest 24th Street, New York
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Works on Paper from a Distinguished Private Collection at 68 Park Place, East Hampton, New York
Closed
12–20 August 2020 Group Exhibition Works on Paper from a Distinguished Private Collection 68 Park Place, East HamptonNew York
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, American Pastoral at Gagosian, Britannia Street, London
Closed
23 January–14 March 2020 Group Exhibition American Pastoral GagosianBritannia Street, London

Ed Ruscha Represented By

Gagosian contemporary art gallery in 980 Madison Avenue, New York, USA Gagosian Athens, New York, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, London, Paris, Le Bourget, Geneva, Basel, Rome, Hong Kong
Sprüth Magers contemporary art gallery in Berlin, Germany Sprüth Magers Berlin, London, Los Angeles

Ed Ruscha In Ocula Magazine

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Matthew Armstrong on Collector Donald B. Marron Ocula Conversation Matthew Armstrong on Collector Donald B. Marron By Anna Dickie, New York

Private curator to Donald B. Marron for over two decades, Matthew Armstrong discusses working with the collector, reminiscing on the boyish enthusiasm Marron exuded when it came to art.​

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How Auction Houses are Approaching Their Crucial Summer Sales Ocula News How Auction Houses are Approaching Their Crucial Summer Sales New York, 25 June 2020

Sotheby's, Christie's, Phillips and Bonham's have changed what they're selling and how they're selling it for major auctions taking place over the next two weeks.

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What Sold for Over $1 Million at Art Basel Online? Ocula News What Sold for Over $1 Million at Art Basel Online? London, 23 June 2020

Prices didn't reach the heights of the physical fair in 2019, but over a dozen works exceeded the million dollar mark.

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The Latest: Venice Biennale Delayed till 2022, Olafur Eliasson's AR Bugs, and More Ocula News The Latest: Venice Biennale Delayed till 2022, Olafur Eliasson's AR Bugs, and More Hong Kong, 19 May 2020

This week's need-to-know art news, including Christie's new global auction and an attempt at a fairer art fair by the New Art Dealers Alliance.

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Ed Ruscha In Related Press

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Art Collection Of Renowned Architect Fred Clarke, Featuring Thirty-Five Meticulous Ed Ruscha Works, Heads To Auction Related Press Art Collection Of Renowned Architect Fred Clarke, Featuring Thirty-Five Meticulous Ed Ruscha Works, Heads To Auction 25 August 2019, Forbes

Laura Weir Clarke and Fred Clarke moved from their native Texas to Los Angeles in the mid-1960s, intoxicated by West Coast culture and in search of fine art. They wandered the city, knocking on studio doors of artists they respected seeking insight into the creative process, befriending artists Chris Burden and Larry Bell, gallery owner Margo...

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Ed Ruscha Treasure Trove to be Auctioned by Christie's (Exclusive) Related Press Ed Ruscha Treasure Trove to be Auctioned by Christie's (Exclusive) 14 August 2019, Hollywood Reporter

L.A. master Ed Ruscha boasts Hollywood collectors including Leonardo DiCaprio, Owen Wilson and Jay-Z, but few can lay claim to as many of his works as architect Fred Clarke, partner of the late Cesar Pelli.

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Preview Art Basel 2019 Related Press Preview Art Basel 2019 7 June 2019, ARTnews

Art Basel 2019 opens to the public on Thursday, June 13, with two preview days, on June 11 and 12. Some 290 galleries from 34 countries will show work at the Swiss fair, which runs through June 16.

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Ed Ruscha Still Has Plenty More to Say About America Related Press Ed Ruscha Still Has Plenty More to Say About America 30 May 2018, Vanity Fair

One afternoon last spring, I rode shotgun with the artist Ed Ruscha as he guided his silver-gray Tesla along the streets of Culver City, California, where he works out of a 9,000-square-foot former prop warehouse. The overcast sky was gauzy, like one of his gunpowder drawings from the 1960s. As a driver, Ruscha is calm, collected, and—it's...

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Ed Ruscha In Video & Audio

A Luta Continua. The Sylvio Perlstein Collection Related Video & Audio A Luta Continua. The Sylvio Perlstein Collection 8 May 2018, Hauser & Wirth

Unfolding across all three floors of Hauser & Wirth New York, 22 nd Street, A Luta Continua is the first United States presentation of the Sylvio Perlstein Collection. Curated by David Rosenberg, the exhibition presents more than 360 works by some 250 artists. Among these are Josef Albers, Carl Andre, Diane Arbus, Hans Bellmer, André...

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Getting there: Ed Ruscha Related Video & Audio Getting there: Ed Ruscha 24 July 2016, Juxtapoz Magazine

First published on  Nowness:  Ed Ruscha took Matthew Donaldson on a Los Angeles ride through memory lane, from the artist’s Culver City studio—that started life as one of Howard Hughes’ aircraft parts factories—to Silverlake and around Echo Park where the filmmaker lived as a child.  “Almost more...

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Ed Ruscha and the Art of the Everyday Related Video & Audio Ed Ruscha and the Art of the Everyday 23 May 2013, Tate

Ed Ruscha is widely regarded as one of the world's most important artists with a career spanning six decades from the early 1960s until the present day. Through key works from the ARTIST ROOMS collection discover the art and ideas of this extraordinary artist.

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