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Edward Ruscha
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Omaha, Nebraska
Best known for his paintings and prints emblazoned with a word or a phrase and his iconic image of a Standard Oil gas station, Ed Ruscha is among the most innovative and influential artists of his generation. His works include paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, books and films. Born in Omaha in 1937, Edward Joseph Ruscha IV moved with his family to Oklahoma City in 1941. Interested in drawing and cartooning from an early age, he received first prize in graphic design from the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce in a high school competition. After graduating from high school in 1956, he drove to Los Angeles and enrolled in the Chouinard Art Institute (now California Institute of the Arts), where he studied commercial and graphic art while soaking up the contemporary art scene. After graduation in 1960, Ruscha worked as a layout and graphics artist for a Los Angeles advertising agency. He first showed his art at the Oklahoma City Art Center in a group exhibition in 1960. During a 1961 trip to Europe, he was less interested in Old Masters than observing and photographing street scenes and viewing the contemporary work of Jasper Johns (b. 1930) and Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008). Back in Los Angeles, he soon left the advertising agency to concentrate on painting, working on large paintings featuring single words. The first museum exhibition of his work was at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norman Simon Museum) in a 1962 exhibition titled “New Painting of Common Objects.” Inspired by the landscape he photographed while making frequent road trips to Oklahoma, Ruscha self-published a book of his photographs of gasoline stations along Route 66 as “Twentysix Gasoline Stations” in 1963. It was the first of 16 photo books he would publish. The retrospective exhibition of Marcel Duchamp’s (1887-1968) works at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1963 confirmed Ruscha’s interest in using common objects in his art. Later that year the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles gave Ruscha his first solo show. The actor Dennis Hopper (1936-2010) purchased “Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas” (1963, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.) from Ruscha’s second solo show at the Ferus Gallery the following year. The view from his Western Avenue studio of the “Hollywood” sign led to versions of the sign in paintings, prints and drawings, first in a 1968 screenprint. Ruscha’s iconic screenprint “Standard Station” was commissioned for an exhibition in Philadelphia in 1966, and received a purchase award from the Los Angeles Printmaking Society. Always experimental, he made drawings with gunpowder, used organic products—mostly foods—as ink for screenprints and for the 1970 Venice Biennale created 360 screenprints made with chocolate paste. Recognition came with a National Council on the Arts award in painting (1967), a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a fellowship at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop (both in 1969), and an appointment as visiting professor of art at the University of California, Los Angeles for academic year 1969-70. The Minneapolis Institute of Art organized Ruscha’s first large solo museum exhibition in 1972. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art mounted a retrospective exhibition in 1982, which traveled to four other American and Canadian locations. Having made prints at the Gemini G.E.L. workshop in 1967, he began making prints at Crown Point Press (then in Oakland) in 1982, at the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque in 1986, and at the Hamilton Press he co-founded in Venice, CA with Ed Hamilton in 1990. Retrospective exhibitions were organized by the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris in 1989 and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Center in Washington in 2000. Major commissions included murals for the Miami-Dade Public Library (1985), the Denver Central Library (1993), the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (1995) and the Getty Center, Los Angeles (1996). The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco acquired Ruscha’s complete graphic archive of 325 editioned prints and some 800 working proofs in 2000, and celebrated the acquisition in an exhibition at the Legion of Honor the following year. The Museums have continued to receive an impression of every editioned print he creates. Ruscha again represented the U.S. at the Venice Biennale in 2005 with ten paintings. Among his many honors, Ruscha was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2001) and an honorary member of Britain’s Royal Academy of Arts (2004) and was awarded honorary doctoral degrees by the California College of the Arts (2001), Rhode Island School of Design (2008) and the San Francisco Art Institute (2009). Dozens of solo exhibitions of his work have been mounted by museums and galleries in the U.S. and Europe during the 21st century, including “Ed Ruscha and the Great American West” at the de Young Museum in 2016. Ruscha continues to create art in his studio in Culver City, CA. (TNB 5/2016) Selected bibliography: Breuer, Karin. Ed Ruscha and the Great American West. Exhibition catalog, with essays by Kerry Brougher and D. J. Waldie and a chronology compiled by Colleen Terry. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Oakland: University of California Press, 2016. Marshall, Richard D. Ed Ruscha. London and New York: Phaidon Press, 2003.