Born on December 16, 1937, in Omaha, Nebraska, Edward Ruscha grew up in Oklahoma City, where his family moved in 1941. After finishing high school in 1956, he relocated to Los Angeles intending to become a commercial artist. Instead, he attended the Chouinard Art Institute (now California Institute of the Arts), Los Angeles, from 1956 to 1960. Ruscha began his career as a graphic artist but expanded his production to encompass drawing, painting, photography, and artist books that explore the banality of the urban landscape.
Ruscha’s works function as alternatives to mass-media depictions of life in Los Angeles and on the West Coast. His early interest in commercial art and work as a graphic designer and layout artist for an L.A. advertising agency, as well as his distrust and frustration with the traditional hierarchies of painting and sculpture led him to create works that challenged prevalent styles such as Abstract Expressionism. Resisting the labels of Pop or Conceptual artist, Ruscha nevertheless incorporates elements of both movements into his paintings and photographs, and his work influenced the development of later Conceptual art in the United States, serving as a forerunner to that of practitioners as varied as Bruce Nauman, Robert Smithson, and Lawrence Weiner. The deadpan, documentary-style photography of his accordion-fold artist book Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) is a quintessential example of the post-Conceptual photography of that era.
In January 1963, Ruscha published Twentysix Gasoline Stations, the first of his 16 artist books of the 1960s and 1970s. Also that year, the first of three solo exhibitions opened at the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles. Other important solo shows were presented by the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1976); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1988); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1990); and J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (1998). Ruscha’s work has been the subject of numerous retrospectives, including an early 1983 exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the traveling retrospective Cotton Puffs, Q-tips®, Smoke and Mirrors, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2004); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2004–05); and National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (2005). In 2004, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, organized a major retrospective that subsequently traveled to the Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI Secolo, Rome (2004), and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2004–05). Ruscha represented the United States at the 2005 Venice Biennial. In 2009, Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting opened at the Hayward Gallery, London, and traveled to the Haus der Kunst, Munich, and Moderna Museet, Stockholm (both 2010). Ed Ruscha lives and works in Los Angeles.