The Museum of Modern Art Oxford presents the UK's first major retrospective of American artist Ed Ruscha, in an exhibition organised with the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. due to last until January 13th 2002.
The exhibition comprises a wide range of Ruscha's paintings from early ‘pop' works such as Annie and Boss through to recent highly acclaimed ‘mountain' paintings and metro plots, and also offers visitors a rare opportunity to see a selection of drawings and all of his books, including Twenty-six Gasoline Stations (1963).
“When I began painting, all my paintings were of words which were guttural utterances like Smash, Boss, Eat. Those words were like flowers in a vase; I just happened to paint words like someone else paints flowers”, Ed Ruscha once said.
Considered both a Pop and a conceptual artist, Los Angeles based Ed Ruscha has resisted such convenient labels for his work, but has always been a pioneer in the use of language and imagery drawn from the popular media. From his early, powerful word paintings, to his influential artist books of the 1960s and 70s, through to his recent, colourful views of generic mountains, Ruscha has investigated the spaces between highways and journeys, image and words, abstraction and representation, public imagery and the contemporary landscape.
“I am more firmly rooted in issues of abstract art than I am with things figurative, yet I use figurative objects. This is a contradiction that is never resolved but does not confuse me”, explains Ruscha of his work.
Ed Ruscha was born in December 1937 in Omaha, and grew up in Oklahoma City. In 1956, (aged 18) he left home driving along Route 66 to California. The highways and landscapes he passed on his journey were to influence his work in a profound and lasting way. In Los Angeles, Ruscha attended the Chouinard Art Institute until 1960 where, under the influence of teachers such as Robert Irwin, Richards Ruben and Emerson Woelffer, he gave up his original intention of becoming a cartoonist and began to focus instead on fine art.
In the early sixties, Ruscha worked for an advertising agency, after which he made his first paintings using words, a prime focus for him throughout the years since. At first, words were rendered in great brushstrokes in the style of Abstract Expressionism, which later became words that floated against a variety of backgrounds. His early work featured mostly single words such as Ace and Jelly.
Ruscha's work is included in numerous international museum collections, and previous retrospectives have been mounted by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam. The MOMA exhibition brings together, for the first time in the UK, works from private and public collections from all over the world, that survey Ruscha's entire career to date.
There's been a kind of renaissance of interest in his work in the last three or four years says Neal Benezra, who co-curated the exhibition. He's continually reinventing his paintings and reinventing not just the look of art but the way it's made.