Edward Ruscha

8543 Sunset Blvd. - 1966

1966, printed 2014

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Edward Ruscha born 1937
Photograph, inkjet print on paper
Image: 145 × 216 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
Presented by the artist to Tate for ARTIST ROOMS 2015


This is one of four black and white photographs of petrol stations in Tate’s collection by the American artist Ed Ruscha (Tate P20505, P20507, P20516–7). Standard, Figueroa 1962, printed 2012 (Tate P20516) and Standard, Beverly Boulevard 1962, printed 2012 (Tate P20517) are taken from Ruscha’s 1963 photobook, Twentysix Gasoline Stations (Tate AL00299); 8900 Sunset Blvd. – 1966 1966, printed 2014 (Tate P20505) and 8543 Sunset Blvd. – 1966 1966, printed 2014 (P20507) are from the 1966 photobook Every Building on the Sunset Strip. Each shows the building and outside area of an individual petrol station viewed at a more or less oblique angle from the road. 8900 Sunset Blvd. – 1966 and 8543 Sunset Blvd. – 1966 are largely similar in composition and crop – each contains the same elements as dictated by the function of the business: a garage building, a shop frontage, petrol pumps covered by an overhanging shelter and advertising hoardings. Standard, Figueroa and Standard, Beverly Boulevard contain the same elements, but are taken from a greater distance and have a more ‘haphazard’ feel, given by the moving car entering the frame of Standard, Beverly Boulevard and the fact that the Standard, Figueroa was taken at night.

While perhaps not the best-known element of Ruscha’s practice, photography has played a crucial role in the artist’s development, influencing his painting, drawing and printmaking. The medium appealed to the artist from an early age: ‘I began to shoot pictures while I was in school, but not on a serious basis. I liked the idea that it could capture the here and now, an immediate reality that could then be appraised and put back into a painting.’ (Quoted in Jeu de Paume 2006, p.12.) His photobook projects, however, represent a more focussed engagement with the medium, unconnected with other projects. Twentysix Gasoline Stations, in which he systematically recorded petrol stations along the Route 66 highway between Los Angeles and his parents’ home in Oklahoma City, was a product of Ruscha’s ongoing engagement with petrol stations as subject matter. He returned to it by chance in later projects such as Every Building on the Sunset Strip, the renowned two-and-a-half-mile centre of the Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. Taken from the former, Standard, Figueroa and Standard, Beverly Boulevard depict different branches of Standard Oil (later Chevron Corporation) whose brand name has become iconic in the artist’s work (see, for example, Standard Study #3 1963, Tate AR00050, and Cheese Mold Standard with Olive 1969, Tate AL00298). Drawing attention to subtle differences in local infrastructure, Ruscha’s artist books function as studies in architecture as much as explorations of the specificities of a particular location and its community. Ruscha has said:

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 Jeu de Paume 2006, p.18.)

The fascination with petrol stations demonstrates Ruscha’s matter-of-fact approach as well as a wry sense of humour in producing an entire volume on such supposedly mundane subject matter. The decision to systematically produce volumes on a unified, repetitious theme connects this work with the then-emerging Pop art movement and the interest in mass culture and serial imagery shown most prominently in the work of Andy Warhol. The neutral, documentary style of the photographs, however, seems a more passive participation in quintessentially American culture. Kerry Brougher also describes it as something of a homage to collective memory: ‘it is a means of resurrecting previous cross-country journeys taken by Ruscha and the many Americans who have travelled on Route 66. As such it hovers between being a personal document of the landmarks seen on that highway and a road map…[becoming] a kind of conceptual ribbon tying them and the country together.’ (Brougher 2000, p.163.)

This is one of a group of sixteen photographs by the American artist Edward Ruscha printed between 2011 and 2014 (Tate P20501–17), six of which are from negatives produced in the 1960s (Tate P20503, P20505, P20507, P20515–17). Printed in a range of sizes and editions, they are drawn from different bodies of work and reveal the diversity of the artist’s practice in photography over the last fifty years, as well as his ongoing exploration of quintessentially American subject matter including signage and the locale of his hometown of Los Angeles. The prints dated from 2013 onwards have been produced specifically for Tate and are inscribed by hand with the words ‘Tate Proof’.

Further reading
Kerry Brougher, ‘Words as Landscape’ in Kerry Brougher and Neal Benezra, Ed Ruscha, exhibition catalogue, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. 2000.
Ed Ruscha: Photographer, exhibition catalogue, Jeu de Paume, Paris 2006.
Mary Richards, Ed Ruscha, London 2008.

Hannah Johnston
August 2015
Arthur Goodwin
December 2018

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