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Ed Ruscha (born 1937)

Lucy Askew, Managing Curator – ARTIST ROOMS, and Matthew Gale, Head of Displays at Tate, explore the fascinating work of Ed Ruscha, whose works form part of the ARTIST ROOMS collection jointly owned by National Galleries of Scotland and Tate.

[Duration 3:03]


Ed Ruscha’s exploration of language and American West Coast culture centred on Hollywood has made him one of the pre-eminent artists of his generation.

Since the early 1960s he has channelled his fascination with words and the act of communication into books, print-making, photography, drawing and painting. Ruscha has held a long fascination with the urban landscape around Los Angeles, exploring the grids of boulevards and avenues that order the city in drawings. His interest in language can be seen to derive in part from the signage and billboards that articulate these highways.

His work has much in common with Pop Art, but while Ruscha’s carefully planned paintings and drawings draw on popular references and mass media, his playful use of irony, paradox and absurdist juxtapositions have set him firmly apart from any movement.

ARTIST ROOMS holds a remarkable survey of Ruscha’s work dating between 1962 and 2005, including an important group of drawings and several key paintings that explore the various series that the artist has made since the 1960s. Early works such as Honk and Dance? depict single, pithy words in strong typographic format, while the catch-phrase drawings of the mid 1970s such as I plead insanity because I’m just crazy about that little girl invoke vernacular language against single fields of colour. A more brooding atmosphere emerges in the later series, The End, which illustrates the words with imagery that recalls fading film credits.

The artist’s enjoyment of the contradictory and illogical is at play in the mountain paintings, a sequence of works begun in the late 1990s in which sublime alpine landscapes form the backdrop for banal statements, as found in Pay Nothing Until April.

See our Ed Ruscha learning resource for more on the artist's work.