Ed Ruscha and the Standard Station
If you would have told me ten years ago that I would travel across the country with university students to meet Ed Ruscha, I probably would have asked, “Who’s Ed Ruscha?” Although I knew ten years ago that I wanted to study art history in college and work in a museum, I wasn’t sure what capacity. And I didn’t know anything about Ed Ruscha.
It wasn’t until much later that I saw a painting by Ruscha in person. Standard Station with 10-cent Western Being Torn in Half, located at The Modern in Fort Worth, was the first Ruscha work that I saw. I was immediately drawn in by the subject matter. It’s a gas station. However, I’ve never seen one like this. It’s pristine. It’s empty—like an Edward Hopper painting. The diagonal from the top left to the bottom right corner almost takes my attention away from the painting. Almost. Then there is a torn magazine-like object flying in the top right, which keeps my attention in the painting.
Road to Ruscha allowed me to come full circle with a contemporary artist because I was able to visit the Standard station in Amarillo, Texas. It is now K&T Automotive. Todd Stewart, the project leader from the School of Art and Art History, showed the series of Standard station paintings to the owner. It was a surreal experience to stand at the Standard site and witness the owner seeing paintings inspired by the building that were painted in the 1960s. You might be wondering why Ruscha would photograph gas stations or how those photographs could inspire a series of paintings. To quote Ruscha from a LACMA video, “There have been great painters throughout history who have done beautifully rendered sunsets and sunrises and all that. They are more serious about it, and I am taking it back a step.”
Not only did I stand in the Standard Station in Amarillo, but I met Ed Ruscha just five days later. If you watch the LACMA video then you will get a glimpse of his studio, his dog, and his garden. The visit with Ed could not have been any better. We started our tour in his library where he discussed his curatorial experience with the exhibition The Ancients Stole All Our Great Ideas. Then we moved into his studio to find recent works hanging on the walls and sketches for future works on the tables. From there, we stepped outside to see Ed’s gardens and old cars. His dog, Woody, followed us around as we explored the space and took many photographs to remember our experience. (Enjoy a post by Gary Gress, one of the project’s leaders, about Woody.) At the end of our visit, he gave away five items from his studio: two books from his library, a copy of Paul’s book, a pencil he bought in Oklahoma in the 1960s, and kumquats from his garden. It was a rare and exciting opportunity that we will never forget.