Born in Omaha, Nebraska, he became one of America's most productive figures in the fine arts in the late 20th century. Working from a studio in Hollywood, California, he is a painter, graphic artist, photographer, author and film maker and is especially known for his witty paintings with calligraphic and numeric messages that reflect urban imagery of life in Southern California.
He studied art at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles between 1956 and 1960 and then served in the United States Navy, traveled in Europe, and taught as artist-in-residence at numerous universities and art schools.
Some of his earliest letter painting were painted in his Paris hotel room from sketches he made of subway signs, recognizable pop-culture images. Many of his backgrounds were painterly, heavy with impasto.
In the 1980s a more subtle motif began to appear, again in a series of drawings, some incorporating dried vegetable pigments: a mysterious patch of light cast by an unseen window that serves as background for phrases such as WONDER SICKNESS and 99% DEVIL, 1% ANGEL. By the 1990s, Ruscha was creating larger paintings of light projected into empty rooms, some with ironical titles such as An Exhibition of Gasoline Powered Engines (1993).
A special traveling exhibition of his work: "Edward Ruscha" was held June-September 1 at The Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC and from November 20 to June 3, 2001 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
Born and raised Catholic, Ruscha readily admits to the influence of religion in his work. He is also aware of the centuries-old tradition of religious imagery in which light beams have been used to represent divine presence. But his work makes no claims for a particular moral position or spiritual attitude.
Ruscha's work has been exhibited internationally for three decades and is represented in major museum collections. Among his other public commissions are a mural commissioned for the Miami-Dade Public Library, Miami, Florida (1985 and 1989); and for the Great Hall of the Denver Central Library, Colorado (1994-95). Ruscha is represented in Los Angeles by Gagosian Gallery and in New York by Leo Castelli Gallery.