The pioneering work of Jasper Johns was of particular importance to Ruscha in terms of showing him an alternative to abstract expressionism.
Eschewing spontaneity, Johns selected ready-made imagery--initially targets, maps, numbers, and letters. Using the technique of encaustic,
in which pigment is mixed with wax and applied to the surface while hot, Johns painted these "things the mind already knows."
"I saw his work in reproduction first," Ruscha recalled. "It was Target with Four Faces, and it retained all of its power for me from early on."
By making his flat images coextensive with the surface of the canvas, Johns enhanced the "sign" quality of his images and, in this process, blurred distinctions between the object and its sign.
This aspect of Johns' appropriation of media culture is particularly relevant to Ruscha's interests in words as objects.