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Ed Ruscha: A Collector’s Guide

Five things to know about Ed Ruscha, who turns the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Works featured on offer at West Chelsea Contemporary.

Ed Ruscha at London’s National Gallery for the opening of his exhibition, Course of Empire (2018).

Ed Ruscha is a world-renowned artist whose career spans six decades, from the early 1960s to the present day. Although credited with Pop sensibility and an influential figure to Conceptual art, Ruscha’s diverse portfolio of works defy categorization, whether it be his paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, films, or books.

Read on below to discover five things every art collector should know about Ed Ruscha.

  1. In 1956, Ed Ruscha moved from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles, where he attended the Chouinard Art Institute. During his time there, he was struck by a reproduction of Jasper Johns’s Target With Four Faces (1955) and his use of readymade images as support for abstraction. Ruscha began to consider how he could employ graphics to explore the duality of painting as both object and illusion. Following art school, Ruscha began to work for ad agencies in commercial art, which allowed him to explore technique in typography, design, scale, and abstraction that became central questions prompted in his painting and photography. During this time in the late 1950’s, Ruscha became well known for his small collages composed with images and words from sources like advertisements. This interest in the everyday led him to use the cityscape of his new home, Los Angeles, as a root of inspiration that he has returned to continuously.
Ed Ruscha in his studio
  1. At the start of his career, Ed Ruscha called himself an “abstract artist…who deals with subject matter.” Ruscha abandoned academic connotations that came to be associated with Abstract Expressionism and instead looked at tropes of advertising, language, and American culture, bringing words to the forefront of painting as a form, symbol, and material. First appearing in 1959, words, phrases, and language became the main focus of Ed Ruscha’s work, with the Los Angelos film industry as a strong influence. In addition, Ruscha has often used images of Los Angeles with words and phrases to communicate the experience of urban life and the mass-media influx of content we interact with daily. This compositional method makes the ordinary extraordinary and is demonstrative of how his work seemingly immortalizes urban America, leaving the viewer to feel adrift in a transformation between the past and present.
Ed Ruscha, The Music from the Balconies (1984)
  1. Throughout the 1960’s, Ruscha produced paintings that investigated the fluidity and noise of language. His collection of words and American vernacular dominating the subject of his works make it impossible to look at them without verbalizing the visual. Ruscha plays with the language in his work by depicting literary devices like onomatopoeia, puns, alliteration, and contrasting meanings in a strong typographic format. Aside from exploiting language, Ruscha also utilized unusual materials for mediums. This is evident in works like that of the print portfolio, Stains, which consists of 75 works on paper constructed with egg yolk, turpentine, beer, salad dressing, and gunpowder. Ruscha’s use of readymade and unconventional objects as mediums also highlights his general fascination with iconography of American pop culture, saying, “All my artistic response comes from American things, and I guess I’ve always had a weakness for heroic imagery.”
Ed Ruscha, Stains (1965)
  1. Ruscha’s early paintings gained attention as part of the Pop art movement with his use of imagery and techniques echoing his interest in advertising, popular culture, and the everyday. Along with Pop art, he became an influential figure in the development of Conceptual Art through his depiction of words and phrases as well as his photographs characterized by a deadpan tone and muted humor. Ruscha produced photographic books that transfer this deadpan Pop style into a series of images of LA with one of his most popular works in the series being Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1962). Drawing from phrases suggestive of everyday American language and culture, Ruscha’s 1970s work features groups of catch-phrase drawings that mix visual formality with playful language.
Ed Ruscha, Burning Gas Station (1965-66).
  1. In 1962, Ruscha’s work was included in the historically groundbreaking “New Painting of Common Objects” exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum, which is considered one of the first Pop Art exhibitions in America. Ruscha had his first solo exhibition in 1963 at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. In 1970, Ruscha represented the United States at the Venice Biennale as part of a survey of American printmaking. Ruscha has been the subject of numerous international retrospectives, including those organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1982, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 2000, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2004. Also in 2004, The Whitney Museum of American Art organized two simultaneous exhibitions: “Cotton Puffs, Q-tips®, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha” and “Ed Ruscha, a Photographer.”

What’s on now at WCC:

West Chelsea Contemporary’s nearly 8,000 square-foot gallery offers the opportunity to highlight work on a monumental scale. From 16-foot originals by RETNA and Cey Adams to colossal sculptural work—including a larger than life mixed media shark and painted aluminum spaceman—the gallery is activated by art world giant’s not only in a metaphorical sense. 

By contemplating ground-breaking movements from the past six decades, Icons & Vandals allows viewers to rediscover and redefine the art world’s most iconic and contentious house-hold names. These artists have left their mark on the development and progression of contemporary art by subverting the norms of their own time.  Through this show it becomes clear that these two labels are not mutually exclusive but in fact ingrained in their interconnectedness. 

Works from ICONS & VANDALS will be on display and for sale at West Chelsea Contemporary in beginning May 15.

Reach out today to inquire or acquire.



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