By Gary D. Myers
I have always loved Edward Ruscha’s art – especially his painting of a simple gas station. I was inspired the first time I saw it and I consider that painting one of my major influences. Unfortunately, for many years I couldn’t remember who painted it.
|“Standard Station” Edward Ruscha
Ruscha painted the work known as “Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas” in 1963. It is simple, stark, bold and powerful. A few weeks ago Sunday Morning on CBS aired a feature on Ruscha … and … wow, there’s much more to Ruscha than one painting. See the feature here.
I found out that Ruscha, like me, grew up in Oklahoma. The story goes that he and high school classmate Mason Williams got bored with Oklahoma City in 1956 and left for Los Angeles. California seems to have some sort of “magnet” that attracts Oklahomans (I spent the summer of 1991 in Los Angeles, but that’s another story).
Traveling Route 66 during his trips to and from Oklahoma, Ruscha was inspired by the gas stations that dot the old highway. In 1962 he created a book of gas station photographs titled “Twenty-six Gas Stations.” He painted “Standard Station” the next year. With the book and the painting, Ruscha caught the attention of the art world. His friend Mason Williams also made a name for himself as a comedy writer for The Smothers Brothers and as a guitarist. Williams’ best know song is “Classical Gas.” Listen here.
I dug around and learned a little more about Ruscha’s art and influences. Like me, Ruscha was influenced by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Both artists use collage, overpainting, stenciled words and bold colors. Raushenberg often used newsprint in his works. All three artists were enamored with words. Because I was only familiar with “Standard Station,” I did not realize that most of Ruscha’s paintings are simply words on canvas.
Though I avoid realism in my acrylic work, I really enjoy the work of American realist Andrew Wyeth. It should not have surprised me to learn that Ruscha was also inspired by a realist – Edward Hopper.
Though I focused on watercolor when I studied art at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, I always dabbled with Pop Art. After Hurricane Katrina I wanted to paint out of a love for the city of New Orleans and hope for the future. I gravitated toward a Pop Art influenced style, but I intentionally avoided the trivial things often associated with Andy Warhol and other Pop artists. My paintings featured street signs to illustrate a sense of place. I attempted to arrange multiple signs in a lyrical way or paint single signs with powerful meanings. Visit the “Art” tab or the “Art” category to see or read about the street sign paintings.
I was several progressions into my “Street Signs” series before I realized how connected these paintings were to the styles of Johns and Raushenberg (though I don’t pretend that to quality is near that of these great artists). And it was the CBS feature that reminded me of Ruscha’s stark painting of a gas station that has served as a quiet, background influence on my art. So thank you Ed Ruscha. Keep up the good work!