Ed Ruscha's initial interest in art as a child in Oklahoma City, where his family moved in 1942 was nurtured by a neighbor who was a cartoonist. Ruscha enrolled in his first painting class with portrait painter Richard Goetz in 1948 and continued to study art in high school, simultaneously developing an interest in Dada and in the commercial printing process. Planning to study commercial art, he drove to Los Angeles the summer after graduation with a friend and occasional collaborator Mason Williams. He enrolled in the Chouinard Art Institute (later, California Institute of the Arts), where he studied from 1956 to 1960.
Ruscha worked intermittently in the commercial art while attending Chouinard, including six months at Plantin Press in 1958, learning how to run the presses and set type. In 1961, after leaving a layout job with an advertizing agency, Ruscha traveled in Europe for seven months. He worked briefly in commercial advertising after his return but soon decided to devote his full attention to fine art. One last commercial art position was with Artforum magazine, where he did layout from 1965 to 1967 using the pseudonym Eddie Russia.
Ruscha's background in commercial art, his interest in Dada, and the influence of the work of contemporaries like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg began to coalesce in his experiments with collage and montage. It was during this period that he created his first paintings in which typographical forms played a major role. His work was included in the New Paintings of Common Objects exhibition held at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1962, the same year he painted Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights, an image of the 20th-Century Fox logo and his first painting to use three-dimensionally rendered letters. Words and phrases formed from illusionistically rendered droplets of water or winding ribbons, and expressing the artist's wry wit, were to become the signature of Ruscha's art.
Ruscha's first prints were lithographs executed in 1962. He has since explored etching, aquatint, and screenprint (experimenting in the latter with organic dyes instead of printer's ink). He has worked with numerous printers and workshops in addition to Graphicstudio, including Cirrus Editions, Ltd., Gemini G.E.L., and Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles, Crown Point Press in San Francisco, Landfall Press in Chicago, Styria Studios in New York, and Editions Alecto, Ltd. in London. In 1974 he was awarded the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Medal in Graphics. During the 1970s he also experimented with filmmaking. And more recently, his special projects have included the large circular mural and lunette paintings in the Miami Dade Public Library, completed in 1987.
Ruscha's first one-man exhibition was held at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1963, his first New York exhibition at the Alexander Iolas Gallery in 1967. Other major exhibitions have been held at the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo (1976), InK, Halle für Internationale neue Kunst, Zurich (1979), Portland Center for the Visual Arts, Oregon (1980), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1982), Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster, Germany (1987), Lannan Museum, Florida (1987), Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1988), Institute of Contemporary Art, Nagoya, Japan (1988), Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1989), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1990), and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1990). Ruscha's graphic work has been featured in shows organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (1972), Arts Council of Great Britain (1975), Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand (1978), and the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art (1979). (Fine/Corlett 1991, 125-126)