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Ed Ruscha

Painter, Photographer, Draughtsman, and Conceptual Artist

Ed Ruscha Photo
Movements and Styles: Pop Art, Conceptual Art, Modern Photography

Born: December 16, 1937 - Omaha, Nebraska

"All my artistic response comes from American things, and I guess I've always had a weakness for heroic imagery."

Ed Ruscha Signature

Summary of Ed Ruscha

For over 50 years, Ed Ruscha has delivered wryly detached portraits of the ephemera of our lives, found deeply embedded within various subcultures, most notably that of Southern California. Through his lens, familiar imagery such as specific architectural gems, common motifs within consumer culture, or font-specific words elevated as objects are bestowed an iconic status. His fodder is often garnered from the environments in which he lives and works, pulling in a mixed bag of visuals from the film and advertising industries as well as a thriving vortex of trends and memes stemming from an area often noted for being the birthplace of "cool." Ed Ruscha is the quintessential Los Angeles artist whose work catapulted Pop art from a form that merely highlighted the universal ordinary into a form in which the ordinary could now be viewed in relation to its geographically intrinsic cultural contexts. In his hands Pop becomes personal.

Key Ideas

Rather than simply painting a word, Ruscha considered the particular font that might add an elevated emotion to the meaning much like the way a poet considers a phrase. By painting a word as a visual, he felt he was marking it as official, glorifying it as an object rather than a mere piece of text.
Ruscha's skewing of everyday objects with a twist spurs the viewer to look at something ordinary in a new light. This can be seen in his trompe l'oeil word paintings in which oil paint resembles common viscous fluids or, with a touch of humor, in his paintings of LACMA and Norm's - two Los Angeles institutions, both of which he depicts licked with flames.
The ever-present influence of Hollywood and media machines can be seen in the way Ruscha paints his solitary subjects upon the overall space of the canvas plane. Bold, large words or images floating on vast singular backgrounds mimic the opening screens of movies or fleeting glimpses of roadside billboards that must catch an audience's attention in one compelling instant.
Ruscha's homage to the ordinary monuments of our lives, seen all around us but typically relegated to background noise, extends beyond the canvas. As seen with his book Twenty Six Gasoline Stations and others, he offers a deadpan look at the common and humble elements that float on our periphery, presented as a form of simple documentation rather than pristine art subject. This furthers the idea of Pop art as a vehicle for pulling out the mundane from its obscurity within our collective consciousness.
Ed Ruscha believed that photography's potential lay in its use as a means of communicating information and ideas, breaking new ground in his use of the medium for Conceptual Art despite his disinterest in photography as a fine art. Ruscha often arranged his images in groups or sequences presented as books and this approach, exemplified in Twentysix Gasoline Stations, influenced the use of seriality and typology by later artists including Bernd and Hilla Becher and Taryn Simon.
Ruscha's photography frequently took the American vernacular as its subject, showing the United States as it was encountered in everyday post-war life. Ruscha sought to avoid romanticising his subjects and approached them with an emphasis on concept over representation, arguing that the artwork was almost complete before the images were even taken. Artists including Stephen Shore, Lewis Baltz and Joel Oppenheim drew from Ruscha's approach, capturing everyday environments and breaking compositional rules, combining his conceptual innovation with consideration of photography as an art form.
Ed Ruscha Life and Legacy

Ed Ruscha was born in Omaha, Nebraska to a Roman Catholic family that included his father Edward, mother Dorothy and siblings Paul and Shelby. His father worked as an auditor for an insurance company and his job took the family to Oklahoma City, where they lived for 15 years. Although Edward was very religious and strict, Dorothy was a lover of music, literature, and art, and introduced her children to these features of high culture.

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