“I am dead serious about being nonsensical” – Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha is widely regarded as one of the most important conceptual artists in the world. He has worked in the media of painting, printmaking, drawing, photography and film.
His experimentation of blending imagery with conceptual art tropes has paved the way for word art to enter the public consciousness. In his iconic word paintings of the 1960s Ruscha explored the fluidity of language: block letters and bright colours encourage the viewer to verbalise the visual, and the meaning of the words are skewed by opposing concepts and abstract phrases. “I like the idea of a word becoming a picture, almost leaving its body, then coming back and becoming a word again”, he explains.
He has created more than a dozen artists’ books which have been highly influential within the conceptual art movement worldwide. The first, ‘Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations’ (1963), consists of a series of photographs taken by the artist on the Route 66 from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City, leading themes of structure, serial imagery and the mundane.
Born in 1937 in Nebraska, Ed Ruscha was raised in Oklahoma City and moved to Los Angeles to study graphic design in 1956. After graduating he worked for advertising agencies, where he honed the skills of design, scale, abstraction and viewpoint which were integral to his art in later life.
Ruscha first came to prominence in the late 1950s, initially making small collages similar to those of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. He then began to refine these works by isolating and recombining words and images in increasingly subtle and unique ways.
Los Angeles has been a major source of inspiration throughout his career: he has drawn inspiration from the cityscape and everyday objects time and time again, combining familiar scenes and icons with everyday language to express a particular experience, often a comment on the banality of modern urban life.
Ruscha has held several retrospectives throughout the US and Europe and his works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate Modern in London, among others. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001, and represented the United States at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005.
Many celebrities have also chosen to invest in Ed Ruscha art, and his works feature in the private collections of Leonardo DiCaprio, Marc Jacobs, Sofia Coppola and Jay-Z. Ed Ruscha art has soared in value over recent years, and many works by the artist have sold for more than $1 million at auction. His large-scale word painting ‘Smash’ (1963) sold at Christie’s New York for $30.4 million in November 2014, making him one of the most expensive living artists in America.