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Edward Ruscha

Pop Art Painter Edward Ruscha

Edward Ruscha, one of the most compelling artists of the last forty years, is best known for paintings in which words and phrases play a central role. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, and raised in Oklahoma, Ruscha moved to Los Angeles in 1956 with the intention of becoming a commercial artist. Ruscha enrolled at Chouinard Art Institute, now Cal Arts, a school then known as a training ground for Disney illustrators and animators that offered a dual-track curriculum in both fine and commercial art. He worked as a printer’s devil, setting type by hand, pulling proofs, and cleaning presses. He also worked in a mail-order house that personalized toys by enameling them with names. At the same time, Ruscha was trained to approach the canvas in the spontaneous manner of abstract expressionism, but he was quickly frustrated. “I liked painting that way,” he said, “but there was no reason to push it any further…I began to see that the only thing to do would be a preconceived image…”

1.The pioneering work of Jasper Johns was of particular importance to Ruscha in terms of showing him an alternative to abstract expressionism. Eschewing spontaneity, Johns selected ready-made imagery—initially targets, maps, numbers, and letters. Using the technique of encaustic, in which pigment is mixed with wax and applied to the surface while hot, Johns painted these “things the mind already knows.” “I saw his work in reproduction first,” Ruscha recalled. “It was Target with Four Faces, and it retained all of its power for me from early on…”

2. By making his flat images coextensive with the surface of the canvas, Johns enhanced the “sign” quality of his “images” and, in this process, blurred distinctions between the object and its sign. This aspect of Johns’ appropriation of media culture is particularly relevant to Ruscha’s interests in words as objects.

Commercial art, with its careful planning and precision, provided Ruscha with the means to extend the boundaries of painting by pressing it into a dialogue with diverse aspects of culture including linguistics. His vernacular images of Standard gas stations and other commercial logos brought him to prominence as a leader of West Coast pop art in the 1960s. Ruscha was aligned with artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Rejecting the heavily worked surfaces and emphatic brushstroke of many abstract expressionist canvases, pop artists simulated the mechanical look of commercial reproduction. They found subjects in newspaper tabloids and comic books. Following the tightly organized structures of their sources, they created imagery that had immediate accessibility and dramatic impact. Ruscha’s work also has precedents in cubism and its use of letters, in Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, and in the unexpected juxtapositions and evocation of sounds found in the surrealism of such artists as René Magritte.

Furthermore, the backgrounds of Ruscha’s paintings call to mind the importance of landscape for American artists, while his immaculate finish and craftsmanship may be thought of in connection with American precisionists of the 1930s.

 Edward Ruscha art styles:
  • Pop Art

  •  Contact Information:
    email: info@edruscha.org

     visit artist's website:

  • www.edruschacatalogue.com/default.cfm

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