Edward Joseph Ruscha IV, commonly known as Edward Ruscha, is a famous American artist linked with the pop art movement; his works gave people a new way of looking at what the American scene is and what it’s about and connecting the verbal with the visual.
Ruscha was born in the United States in Omaha, Nebraska, on December 16th, 1937, but later moved to Oklahoma City. Later on, in 1956, he moved to Los Angeles, where he attended Chouinard Art Institute, now known as CalArts. He studied things like painting, photography, and graphic arts.
There, Edward used to work as a commercial artist and painted signs, and created graphic designs. He applied those commercial styles and techniques to his artwork as a result. Furthermore, Ruscha also experimented with abstract expressionism, but later on, he found out that the words and images drawn from a vernacular culture could transform his work.
In the late 1950s, he started drawing small collages using everyday advertisements, which the public usually ignored. This interest in ordinary things led him to Los Angels’ cityscape as a source of inspiration, which made him repeatedly return to the state.
He combines the city’s images with the words and phrases used in everyday language, which helps him communicate with the urban experience.
Mysterious Facts about Edward Ruscha
Fascination with California
Ruscha got very interested in California at a young age. After seeing Walker Evans’ powerful photography and the movie adaptation of John Ford’s film “The Grapes of Wrath,” he was significantly inspired by California and its culture.
Start of Journey and Graphic Designing
In 1956, Ruscha left Oklahoma and traveled to Los Angeles. He got admission to the Chouinard Art Institute, now known as the California Institute of Arts. Ruscha took lettering, design, and advertising courses. During this time, he also worked as a freelance painter, sign painter, and typesetter. He started painting while he was in Chouinard.
At that time, he was inspired by Jasper Johns, whose 1955 collage painting known as “Target with Four Faces” was “the atomic bombing of my training.” Ruscha’s love for typography and everyday problems were a significant source of inspiration for him.
Father’s Disapproval Towards Studying Art
Edward’s father, Edward Ruscha Sr., stopped him from applying for Chouinard Art Institute in California. On the other hand, her mother, Dorothy, supported him with his idea and gave her approval to pursue art.
Later on, his father changed his mind when Edward’s application was approved, and he got accepted into the institute. Reading about Walt Disney offering profitable jobs to its graduate was also another factor in it.
Europe and His Art Inspiration
After he graduated from the Chouinard Institute of Arts, he applied for a job as a commercial artist at an advertising agency, which he resigned a few months later.
In 1961, he took a trip to Europe with his mother and brother. While in Europe, he started making paintings of streets and shop signs that fascinated him in places like France, such as a boulangerie (bakery). Although he could not understand the language or the shape of words, the foreign lifestyle fascinated him.
Participation in the First Pop Exhibition
In 1962, Edward Ruscha took part in the show known as “New Painting of Common Objects” at the Pasadena Art Museum, where he was the youngest artist in his group.
The museum displayed his arts and works along with the side pieces by Roy Lichtenstein, Joe Goode, Wayne Thiebaud, Jim Dine, and Andy Warhol. Walter Hopps himself curated the show.
Creation of Photobooks
While living in California, Ruscha traveled to Route 66 multiple times in a year to visit his family in Oklahoma. His imagination expanded when he saw the seemingly endless stretch of tarmac dotted with Gasoline Stations.
These trips allowed him to make his first photobook, “Twenty-six Gasoline Stations,” in 1963, known as one of history’s essential artist books. In the 1960s and 1970s, he produced 16 photobooks in total documenting Los Angeles’ built environment.
Ruscha’s First Exhibition at the Ferus Gallery
In 1963, at the Ferus Gallery, Ruscha sold six paintings, declaring the event a success. Ruscha’s solo exhibition was also organized by Hopps, the owner of the gallery. The same year, Ruscha attended the large Marcel Duchamp Retrospective exhibition and found an excellent opportunity to meet the artist who was his primary influence.
Ruscha and The Legendary Guitarist Mason Williams
Ruscha and Mason Williams knew each other since childhood. They only lived a few blocks apart from each other. In 1968, Ruscha agreed to paint the cover for William’s music record, where his rendition turned out to be a little embarrassing, titled “Sorry, Cover by Edward Ruscha.” The two friends remain close.
Steve Martin was a Supporter
In 1968, Steven Martin purchased a painting that Ruscha made. It was his first significant purchase that was about $125. A few years later, after buying the drawings from Ruscha, Martin tried to sell it only to know its value, which had gone up to almost six times from when he bought it in the first place.
The artwork and his growing interest in contemporary art made Martin start his art collection with most of Ruscha’s paintings. The two of them are best friends to date.
Ruscha’s Contribution Towards Los Angeles and Art
After the death of Ruscha’s art dealer, Leo Castelli, Ruscha was approached by an art tycoon Larry Gagosian to work with him as his art dealer, which gained him a lot of popularity overseas. The Course of Empire Exhibition in 2005 proved his success as an internationally recognized artist.
Photography Wasn’t Ed’s End
Photography was his main interest in the early stage of his career; he stopped doing it after the publication of his last book, “Hard Light” in 1978. Ed didn’t think of photography as his last endeavor, but instead, he used it as a tool for creating his art books and as a source of material for his paintings.
He never mixed his photography with his paintings, which was something he was very cautious about doing.
Use of Unusual Materials for Paintings
In the late 60s to the mid-70s, Ruscha used to paint with different kinds of stuff like gunpowder, food, condiments, and even blood. He used these materials to reflect the present-day American life, including what people eat and use daily. For example, he used the gunpowder on paper for the “Corrosive Liquids” artwork in 1973.
Rusha’s Art and California’s Landscape
Ruscha was fascinated by California since childhood. He drew and painted a Hollywood sign, the symbol of glamor for Hollywood and the Los Angeles film industry’s fantasy. The works that he did now give a sense of nostalgia and a sense of throwback in the middle of the progression of urban development.
“Liquids, Gases, and Solids” from his “City Light” series presents a night landscape of Los Angeles as a starry expanse where the stars give an aerial view of the lights from cars, buildings, and street lamps.
He Had a Consistent Style Throughout The Year
Despite his interest in changing, he has remained consistent in his art-making style. While Ruscha employed unusual methods of art, he still liked using traditional painting and printmaking to experiment with the latest new digital art techniques.
Over time, gasoline stations were replaced by sunsets and mountains, even though they have been his recurring theme.
Still Just as Creative as Before
Now in his eighties, Ruscha still works as hard as he used to in his prime. In 2016, he displayed his new paintings in an exhibition. These paintings were all made in that year and shown at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, and London Gallery. He also contributed to his massive solo exhibition catalog at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.
Along with time, the market value of his artworks is also rising. In 2019, his painting “Hurting the World Radio #2” made in 1964, was sold for $52,485,000 at Christie’s in New York, creating a new world record for the artist.
Awards and Honors
Edward Ruscha has been awarded many honorable titles and awards from 1971 to 2019. He received the Guggenheim Fellowship Award in 1971 for being an artist with exceptional skills and creativity. In addition to that, Ed received three honorary doctorate degrees from California College of Arts, Rhode Island School of Design, and San Francisco Art Institute.
Moreover, Ed was also awarded Excellence awards from amfAR, Royal Academy of Arts, German Society for Photography, Aspen Award for Art, National Arts Award by Americans for the Arts, and J. Paul Getty Medal by the J. Paul Getty Trust.
Edward Ruscha – An American Revolutionary
Edward Ruscha is an influential American artist who gave people a new way of looking at California. He put Los Angeles on the map in terms of art and its popularity in the media. Ed is credited to have made art that became the basis of California’s popular mainstream culture.
He showed people how he looked at certain things through his lens by combining different words and phrases by portraying a little bit of Los Angeles and giving it a vibe of the west coast.