Ed Ruscha's Ghostly Standard

A Mixografia Update to the Artist's Iconic Structure

Ed Ruscha, Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas

Few artists can so swiftly and coolly transform ordinary features of the landscape into monumental symbols of modern America. Latching onto the gas station as a hallmark of westward mobility, Ruscha has elevated the seemingly mundane, overlooked structures into monuments with his sparse, geometric style of image-making. Somehow managing to avert romanticizing his subject matter, Ruscha forged his own orignal blend of the conceptual and the Pop. 

Ruscha first began photographing gas stations in the late 1950s and early 1960s as he drove Route 66 from his family home in Oklahoma City to Los Angeles. These images would later fill the pages of Ruscha’s first artist book, Twenty Six Gasoline Stations, published in 1963. Among the photographs taken, it was his snapshot of a Standard gas station in Amarillo, Texas, that made the greatest impact. It featured an angular composition that appeared more dramatic than any other he drove past, and between 1966 and 2011, Ruscha would recreate the Standard Station image in different mediums.

Ruscha’s 2011 Ghost Station is the artist’s most recent iteration of the Standard Station motif. Here, we are presented with a colorless Mixografia echo of what came before it. The diagonal line, one of Ruscha’s formal trademarks, divides the image, offering two ways of rendering perspective. The embossed print strips the image to its most basic outline, underscoring Ruscha's ability to continuously find new meaning from one of his career's most iconic touchstones.

There are things that I’m constantly looking at that I feel should be elevated to greater status, almost to philosophical status or to a religious status. That’s why taking things out of context is a useful tool to an artist. It’s the concept of taking something that’s not subject matter and making it subject matter.

Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha b. 1937

Ed Ruscha is known for his detached, cool gaze over the American landscape, its vernacular and built environments. He is a leading voice in contemporary art, consistently subverting the aesthetic and conceptual conventions of photography and painting, as well as the mythic narratives surrounding American culture.

Ed Ruscha was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1937 and grew up in Oklahoma City. He moved to Los Angeles in 1956 to attend what is now the California Institute of the Arts. Upon graduating in 1960, Ruscha began working in commercial advertising, putting him in contact with relationships between image and text and the language of consumerism and popular culture. Ruscha’s early drawings and paintings bucked against the prevailing trend of abstract expressionism, depicting wry, irreverent takes on the banality of the urban landscape. In 1962, Ruscha was included in New Painting of Common Objects at the Pasadena Art Museum, a show considered the first museum exhibition of Pop Art that included works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Wayne Thiebaud.

In 1963, the year Ruscha’s now-famous artist book Twentysix Gasoline Stations was published, he received his first solo show at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. Ruscha made sixteen artist books in the 1960s and 1970s, most of them comprised of photography taken in an antagonistically plain, documentary style, covering subjects such as swimming pools, parking lots and Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966). In his photography and painting, Ruscha does not attempt to idealize his subjects, but rather stares deadpan at the ordinary objects and spaces that exist on the periphery of the experience of our surroundings. Ruscha is also celebrated for his approach to language, which is often amusing, incongruous and common, exploring the multiplicity of words and turning them into solid objects to be contemplated and played with.

Ruscha’s first major retrospective was in 1982 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The cover of the catalog featured a drawing he had made in 1979, with the text: “I don’t want no retro spective.” Ruscha continues to reside in his adopted city of Los Angeles, actively creating work that speaks to our rapidly changing contemporary landscape, the way we use language and our conception of the American ethos.

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