Hirshhorn Plaza

Ed Ruscha In Depth

Ed Ruscha: OpticsEd Ruscha: AceEd Ruscha: Five Past Eleven

Raised in Oklahoma City, Ed Ruscha (American, born Omaha, Nebraska, 1937) moved to Los Angeles to attend the Chouinard Art Institute in 1956 after graduating from high school. Although he planned to become a graphic artist—he had always been compelled by the vivid commercial imagery and typography of cartoons, movies, stamps, and magazines—he studied both fine art and commercial art, and painted in an Abstract Expressionist style. 

Ruscha soon discovered he was more interested in the end result than in the act of painting. He decided to work with already-conceived images, taking inspiration from the work of Jasper Johns and Marcel Duchamp. The artist began creating deceptively simple canvases incorporating language and imagery culled from popular culture. He also pioneered experiments with unusual materials (including food) and new modes of presentation in prints, drawings, and artist’s books. 

In the 1970s, Ruscha continued to paint thin, horizontal depictions of deep space populated by small floating texts or objects. His work became darker in the 1980s, with nocturnal views of city lights forming words and silhouettes apparently derived from old film stills. More recently Ruscha has returned to images that integrate the landscapes of his early works with words that create maps or conjure advertisements.

Top: Ed Ruscha, The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, 1965-1968. Oil on canvas. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1972.