Born in Omaha, NE in 1937
Ruscha was born into a Roman Catholic family in Omaha, Nebraska, with a younger sister, Shelby, and a younger brother, Paul. Edward Ruscha, Sr. was an auditor for Hartford Insurance Company. Ruschas mother was supportive of her sons early signs of artistic skill and interests. Young Ruscha was attracted to cartooning and would sustain this interest throughout his adolescent years. Though born in Nebraska, Ruscha lived some 15 years in Oklahoma City before moving to Los Angeles in 1956 where he studied at the Chouinard Art Institute (now known as the California Institute of the Arts) under Robert Irwin and Emerson Woelffer from 1956 through 1960. Ruscha spent much of the summer of 1961 traveling through Europe. After graduation, Ruscha took a job as a layout artist for the Carson-Roberts Advertising Agency in Los Angeles. He was married to Danna Knego from 1967 to 1972.
By the early 1960s he was well known for his paintings, collages, and photographs, and for his association with the Ferus Gallery group, which also included artists Robert Irwin, John Altoon, John McCracken, Larry Bell, Ken Price, and Edward Kienholz. He worked as layout designer for Artforum magazine under the pseudonym Eddie Russia from 1965 to 1969 and taught at UCLA as a visiting professor for printing and drawing in 1969. He is also a life-long friend of guitarist Mason Williams.
He achieved recognition for paintings incorporating words and phrases and for his many photographic books, all influenced by the deadpan irreverence of the Pop Art movement. Ruscha's textual, flat paintings have been linked with both the Pop Art movement and the beat generation.
The very first of Ed Ruscha's word paintings were created as oil paintings on paper in Paris in 1961. Since 1964, Ruscha has been experimenting regularly with painting and drawing words and phrases, often oddly comic and satirical sayings alluding to popular culture and life in LA. When asked where he got his inspiration for his paintings, Ruscha responded, Well, they just occur to me; sometimes people say them and I write down and then I paint them. Sometimes I use a dictionary. From 1966 to 1969, Ruscha painted his liquid word paintings: Words such as Adios (1967), Steel (19679) and Desire (1969) were written as if with liquid spilled, dribbled or sprayed over a flat monochromatic surface. His gunpowder and graphite drawings (made during a period of self-imposed exile from painting from 1967 to 1970) feature single words depicted in a trompe loeil technique, as if the words are formed from ribbons of curling paper. In the 1970s, Ruscha, with Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, among others, began using entire phrases in his works, thereby making it a distinctive characteristic of the post-Pop Art generation. In the early 1980s he produced a series of paintings of words over sunsets, night skies and wheat fields. Later, words appeared on a photorealist mountain-range series which Ruscha started producing in 1998.
In his drawings, prints, and paintings throughout the 1970s, Ruscha experimented with a range of materials including gunpowder, vinyl, blood, red wine, fruit and vegetable juices, axle grease, and grass stains. Stains, an editioned portfolio of 75 stained sheets of paper produced and published by Ruscha in 1969, bears the traces of a variety of materials and fluids. Ruscha has also produced his word paintings with food products on moir and silks, since they were more stain-absorbent. His portfolio Insects (1972) consists of six screen prints three on paper, three on paper-backed wood veneer, each showing a life-like swarm of a different meticulously detailed species.
In the 1980s, a more subtle motif began to appear, again in a series of drawings, some incorporating dried vegetable pigments: a mysterious patch of light cast by an unseen window that serves as background for phrases such as WONDER SICKNESS and 99% DEVIL, 1% ANGEL (1983). By the 1990s, Ruscha was creating larger paintings of light projected into empty rooms, some with ironic titles such as An Exhibition of Gasoline Powered Engines (1993).