Finding New Meaning to Ed Ruscha’s Work
Throughout our journey, I searched for an answer to the following question: How does Twentysix Gasoline Stations relate to No Man’s Land?
In talking to Paul Ruscha, I learned that, in 1990, he and Ed reenacted the 1962 trip from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City. At that time, there were very few buildings left from the original photographs. Most likely, the changes happened around the 1980s when Interstate 40 was constructed to parallel or replace Route 66. And in 1985, Route 66 was decommissioned. It was evident on our own journey that many communities had to make changes due to Interstate 40. For example, we spoke to the woman who owns the land where the Enco station once stood in Conway, Texas. Her father owned a restaurant on Route 66 for many years. As Interstate 40 was built, he began to lose business, so he sold the restaurant and got a job building the interstate.
Ed Ruscha painted No Man’s Land in 1990, the same year as the trip to Oklahoma City with his brother. I do not think it is a coincidence that the painting is from the same year. In fact, I now wonder if the trip inspired No Man’s Land. The surroundings on the journey had changed immensely since 1962. Gas stations had been repurposed or, worse, torn down. Perhaps the gray area around Oklahoma and the large question mark represent all the changes made to the once familiar journey from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City. The state of Oklahoma is the white canvas; thus, it is original and unchanged. Did Ruscha find a similar Oklahoma in 1990 that he left in 1956? Certainly not. However, it was home. No matter where we are from or how long we have been gone, home always has a way of feeling unchanged as if we are stepping back in time.
Whether my interpretation is right or wrong, this road trip provided me with more insight and time to consider Ruscha’s No Man’s Land.