Ed Ruscha's Standard Stations
From its first appearance in his artist's book Twentysix Gasoline Stations and its subsequent translation into a masterpiece of American painting in 1964 as Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, the Standard gasoline station is arguably Ruscha's most iconic image.
Its stations ubiquitous across 20th Century America, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil was at one point the largest company in the world. Even when broken up by the federal government into seven smaller companies, “Baby Standard” gasoline stations continued to line Route 66 from Los Angeles to Ruscha’s family home in Oklahoma City until 1984, when the brand became Chevron. Ruscha recorded several of these stations in his photographic book Twentysix Gasoline Stations, which promoted his interest in closely observing the banal and the mundane, the taken-for-granted and the overlooked. From the rather unremarkable source photograph, Ruscha transforms it with a radical foreshortening which centres the composition around a plunging diagonal line. In this way, and with a gorgeously subtle play on words, he creates his idealised “standard” gasoline station.
The first Standard Station screenprint, made in 1966 with a blue and fiery red background, was followed in 1969 by Mocha Standard, Cheese Mold Standard with Olive and Double Standard, all variations on the 1966 forerunner and printed in the same size from the same screens. This is how the subject was left for 42 years until, in 2011, Ruscha decided to revisit the theme with Ghost Station, which by then was considered one of the most famous images in Post-War art. A measure of how lionised the image of the Standard Station had become was shown when Christie’s offered Ruscha’s painting Burning Gas Station at auction in 2007. The painting sold for just under $7 million and held the record for the most expensive work by the artist to have been sold at auction, until that figure was surpassed by SMASH, 1963, which exceeded $30 million in 2014.
With prominent inclusion in San Francisco's de Young Museum's recent Ed Ruscha and the Great American West exhibition, and forthcoming inclusion in The American Dream: pop to the present at the British Museum in 2017, the four Standard Stations of the 1960s are recognised as a paragon of 20th Century printmaking.