MORE INFORMATION:

Ed Ruscha is one of the most iconic American artists working today. With a career spanning over six decades, his painting, photography and books hold a lasting place in the artistic canon. Usually associated with Pop art, Ruscha’s work first came to the fore in 1962 when it was included in “New Painting of Common Objects,” at the Pasadena Art Museum which was curated by Walter Hopps. Considered to be one of the first Pop art exhibitions, this cemented Ruscha’s reputation and placed him alongside figures such as Andy Warhol, Wayne Thiebaud, Jim Dine, and Roy Lichtenstein. Ruscha went on to enjoy widespread exposure when he represented the U.S. at the Venice Biennale in 1970 and has continued to exhibit internationally ever since, including the recent major traveling retrospective “Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting,” at the Hayward Gallery, London (2009), Haus der Kunst, Munich, and the Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1937 and raised in Oklahoma City, Ruscha moved to Los Angeles to study at Chouinard Art Institute in 1956. It was at Chouinard that he learned the techniques of commercial art that came to typify his work: striking images, linear typography, and graphic simplicity. These qualities have been exploited to dramatic effect in the artist’s numerous studies of the icons of American popular culture, from gas stations and auto repair shops, to billboards and streetscapes. Ruscha’s subjects have also taken more rustic forms, from paintings of rugged mountains, wagons and night skies to his silhouette series of paintings, which depict the shadows of animals, galleons, and houses.

Zip Rooster (1994) is a superlative example of the latter strand of Ruscha’s work and exemplifies his practice of isolating and capturing the symbols of the American West, so crucial to the national mythology, with razor–edge precision. The deadpan character of their representation undercuts the romanticism and nostalgia of such imagery. This acrylic on linen painting shows the silhouette of a rooster, a recurrent motif in Ruscha’s work featured in his paintings and prints since the 1970s. This farm animal, an invocation of agrarian culture, may be a nod to the artist’s upbringing in the Midwest or perhaps a reference to “Ross the Rooster,” a bird who lived in the backyard of the Hollywood home which Ruscha shared with fellow students (including artist Joe Goode) in the early 1960s.

This somber painting, with its dusky tones, is a haunting and evocative representation of an archetype of American life. Its flat, graphic forms are characteristic of Ruscha’s streamlined aesthetic, but its soft colors, subtle gradation and blurred edges are a dramatic departure. Indeed, the silhouette paintings were created using an airbrush, a medium which the artist had previously disavowed. “I’ve always had a prejudice against using an air gun, but these paintings just couldn’t be done with a brush… I wanted to make a strokeless painting.” Ruscha has always embraced innovation and many of his series mark experimentation with a new subject or medium (for instance, previous series have substituted paint for unconventional pigments such as blackberry juice and chocolate). In this case, Ruscha has left a few inches at the top of the linen surface bare, revealing a raw band of unpainted linen. This gesture recurs in many of his paintings from this period and alludes to the absence of text in this series. This continual transgression of the limits of his chosen medium, even in the latter stages of his career, marks Ruscha as one of the most important artists of post–war American art.


Tomkins, Calvin. “Ed Ruscha's L.A.” New Yorker 1 July 2013. N. pag. Print.
Terry, Colleen, and D.J. Waldie. “Ruscha’s West: A Selected Chronology.” Ed Ruscha and the Great American West. Ed. Karin Breuer. Berkeley: U of California, 2016. N. pag. Print.
Rugoff, Ralph. “The Last Word.” Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings Interviews, Bits, Pages. Ed. Alexandra Schwartz. Cambridge: MIT, 2004. 297. Print.