Ed Ruscha

(b. 1937)

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(1937– ).

Painter, draftsman, photographer, and printmaker. Since the 1970s a central contributor to recent interest in relationships between art, language, and meaning, he came to attention in the early 1960s with paintings related to pop art and photographs of banal subjects. The bright, cleanly executed, and sardonically witty paintings of this time, generally depicting gas stations, advertising billboards, or other aspects of commercial culture, celebrated their subjects' visual allure. Although also wryly conceived, the photographs drew attention to the monotony and conformity of mid-twentieth-century American life. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Edward Joseph Ruscha grew up in Oklahoma City. In 1956 he left for Los Angeles and has since remained in the area. (Today he also maintains a residence in the eastern California desert.) Upon arrival, he enrolled at the Chouinard Art Institute (now the California Institute of the Arts). At the beginning of the 1960s, he developed his eye for precise layout while working as a graphic designer, initiated a serious engagement with photography during seven months of European travel, and abandoned his earlier abstract expressionist form of painting in favor of small collages demonstrating interest in the work of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. In 1963 he published the first of sixteen unpretentious, mostly text-free, photographic books, each devoted to a single subject, such as gasoline stations, parking lots, or swimming pools. The fifty-some accordion foldout panels of Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) remains among the best known. Indebted to his admiration for Walker Evans, individual photographs recall casual snapshots, but the series format enhances their impact. Recording predetermined sequences of items, his conceptual approach shunned choices based on aesthetic or personal meaning. On the other hand, although they present similar subjects, his boldly designed paintings of the time emphasize artistic decision-making in their abstraction of observed forms. By the late 1960s calligraphy, along with the typography of signage that appeared in his paintings and photographs, stimulated creative approaches to representing words or phrases in exquisitely crafted drawings, often in unconventional media such as gunpowder, coffee, or Pepto-Bismol. For the Venice Biennale in 1970 he produced his only installation, Chocolate Room (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles), featuring shinglelike—and fragrant—chocolate silkscreens completely covering the walls of a room. Later paintings and drawings investigate varied formal and thematic concerns but nearly always focus on language or its exclusion. In the 1970s he also made films, and he has editioned prints throughout his career. His mural for the Miami-Dade County Public Library (1985) aptly foregrounds a line from Shakespeare's Hamlet: “Words without thoughts never to Heaven go.” In 2005 his work alone represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. Edited by Alexandra Schwartz, Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages (2002) constructs an autobiography from fragments.

Subjects: Art.

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