Ed Ruscha is going home. The 83-year-old artist has long been linked to Los Angeles, but a new exhibit in his childhood hometown of Oklahoma City reveals his aesthetic was set long before he ever saw the Hollywood sign or the Sunset Strip.
The sweeping, 75-work survey, “Ed Ruscha: OKLA,” opening Feb. 18 at the new Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center brims with telltale paintings of oil derricks, gas stations and open roads threading through vast, empty expanses that echo the state’s own scenery. The show chronicles his rise as one of the country’s pioneering conceptual artists and includes everything from a rarely seen 1960 woodcut portrait of his mother, Dorothy, to his signature wordplay paintings. Also included are a pair of vellum drum skins on which he’s recently written slang he heard growing up, like “I never done nobody no harm.”
“Everything has an original source, and for me, that’s Oklahoma,” Mr. Ruscha said in a recent interview from his studio in Los Angeles.
Since finding fame in the mid-1960s, Mr. Ruscha’s wry works have been steadily collected by major museums like the Museum of Modern Art and have resold for as much as $53 million at auction. Yet until now, he has never had a solo museum show in Oklahoma, where he lived from age 5 to 18.