Edward Ruscha

Enco - Conway, Texas (from Five Views from the Panhandle Series)

1962, printed 2007

Artist
Edward Ruscha born 1937
Medium
Silver gelatin print
Dimensions
Unconfirmed: 250 x 203 mm
Frame: 380 x 380 x 45mm
Collection
ARTIST ROOMS
Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Artist Rooms Foundation 2011
On long term loan
Reference
AL00242

Not on display

Summary

Enco – Conway, Texas (from Five Views from the Panhandle Series) 1962, printed 2007 is a black and white photograph taken by American artist Ed Ruscha. The image presents a gasoline station seen from across a road. Two cars, one pale and one black, are parked in front of the station and partially block the view of the building. A utility pole and a large circular sign stand next to the automobiles; the latter displays the station’s company name: Enco. Smaller signs and advertisements can also be seen on the façade of the building. A blurred form protrudes into the frame from the photograph’s upper edge, perhaps a visor or wind-deflector on the window of a car that Ruscha sat in. The position of this blurred form, the building, the cars and the road all serve to stress the horizontality of the image.

This image is part of a series made while Ruscha travelled on Route 66 from his childhood town, Oklahoma, to his home in Southern California in 1962. Most of the negatives produced – of gas stations he passed during the journey – were printed in his self-published book Twentysix Gasoline Stations in 1963. Additionally, five of these negatives were reproduced as large-scale prints in a small series titled Five Views from the Panhandle 2007, all of which can be found in the ARTIST ROOMS collection. Enco – Conway, Texas appears in both the book and the series, and of the other four photographs in the Panhandle series, Mobil – Shamrock, Texas 1962, printed 2007 (Tate AL00240), Fina – Groom, Texas 1962, printed 2007 (Tate AL00241) and Hudson – Amarillo, Texas 1962, printed 2007 (Tate AL00243) can also be found in the pages of Twentysix Gasoline Stations in smaller, slightly cropped formats.

In Five Views from the Panhandle and Twentysix Gasoline Stations Ruscha made the open road a site of artistic production, using his own car as a frame for his photographs. The gasoline station itself appears to reference the car culture that was emerging in California during the 1960s, with which Ruscha was personally involved as an active motorist. His interest in the functional spaces used by cars can also be seen in the later photobook Thirtyfour Parking Lots 1967 (see, for example, Tate AL00248, AL00271 and AL00263). Ruscha’s interest in representing Los Angeles’s automobile culture, as well as his use of vehicles, led the art critic Rosalind Krauss to describe the artist’s practice as one that makes the car a medium in itself (Rosalind Krauss, ‘“Specific” Objects’, RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, no.46, Autumn 2004, p.222).

Through Ruscha’s practical reliance on the car and his focus on architectural subjects, both Twentysix Gasoline Stations and Five Views from Panhandle relate to the changing urban landscape of Los Angeles after the Second World War. The city’s geographic expansion and seclusion on the American West Coast necessitated the growth of new car-friendly infrastructures such as freeways, parking lots and gasoline stations. This led architectural historian Reyner Banham to describe Los Angeles as an ‘autopia’ – a city that privileges being experienced by car (Banham 1973, p.213). Of specific concern to Ruscha was the repetitive and stylistically unique forms that the city’s new infrastructures took. Speaking of this interest Ruscha has stated:

I would look at a building and disregard the purpose of that building (in this case, a commercial outlet to sell gasoline). I was really more interested in this crazy little design that was repeated by all the gas companies to make stations with an overhang to create shade for their customers. It seemed to me a very beautiful statement.
(Quoted in Rowell 2006, p.18.)

Ruscha’s preoccupation with the aesthetic form of these subjects also underscores his interest in the vernacular visual language of Los Angeles’s built environment, which he has also examined in the photobook Some Los Angeles Apartments 1965 and paintings such as Standard Study #3 1963 (Tate AR00050).

Further reading
Reyner Banham, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, Middlesex 1973.
Margit Rowell, Ed Ruscha: Photographer, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 2006, reproduced p.116.
Mary Richards, Ed Ruscha, London 2008, photobook version reproduced p.32.

Aaron Shaw
University of Edinburgh
February 2016

The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.

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