In 1956, Ruscha moved from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles, to attend the Chouinard Art Institute where he trained as a commercial illustrator. After graduating in 1959, Ruscha began to work in advertising, and developed his own specific formulas of scale, abstraction, and viewpoint, which later became a signature feature of his painting and photographic style. Throughout the 1960s, Ruscha focused on producing photographic books. Starting from the early 1970s, Ruscha started to work with other media, including printmaking, and throughout the following decades he explored different techniques such as screenprint, lithography, and etching.

Ruscha combines great intuition in terms of content and media, and devotes a high degree of attention to words or phrases in his works. This feature became a distinctive characteristic of Ruscha's pictorial style, which can sometimes appear sinister or sardonic, but is the result of accurate calculations involving both visual perspective and the meaning of the words used. Today, at 82, Ruscha works every day in his studio in Culver City (Los Angeles), and is still devoted to exploring the power and fascination words can exercise within his practice.