Over the past 50 years, Edward Ruscha’s incisive portraits of American culture have transformed American painting, offering new signs, language, processes, and perspectives. The artist, born in 1937 in Omaha, Nebraska, lives and works in Los Angeles. As his official web bio states, “Ruscha has consistently combined the cityscape of his adopted hometown with vernacular language to communicate a particular urban experience.” In paintings, prints, photographs, drawings, light installations, films, and books, the artist has transparently focused on the ways that varied media deliver messages. His imagery, ranging from street signs to busted glass to pools, parking lots, gas pumps, and mountains, has influenced American and world art. Ruscha’s language paintings show us the hard edges of words and how words become signs whose meaning may shift in different contexts. Ruscha has also experimented with a range of substances, including gunpowder, blood, vegetable pigments, axle grease, and grass stains on a variety of materials.
Ruscha has been the subject of numerous museum retrospectives that have traveled internationally, including those organized by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1982, Centre Georges Pompidou in 1989, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in 2002, and Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 2004. In 2005, Ruscha was the U.S. representative at the 51st Venice Biennale. In 2001, Ruscha was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In October 2009, he and Robert Redford were honored with National Arts Awards by the Americans for the Arts.
The artist’s current retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in London (through January 10th) focuses exclusively on his paintings. In addition to exploring the impact of print and graphic media on the artist’s aesthetic strategies, it also focuses on the conceptual underpinnings of his approach to painting and on his incisive portrait of American culture. As Larry Gagosian explains, “Richard Prince put it as well as anybody when he described Ed Ruscha as the West Coast Warhol.”