Kyler Zeleny

T4 : Gasoline Stations in the arts

Ruscha is not alone in choosing the gasoline station as his subject matter. They have featured in the works of a number of artists, whether working in paint of photographs (or, I dare say, other media too). In looking at them as subject matter, I suppose a logical place to start (ignoring Ruscha for the moment - I'll write some more on him in a dedicated post) would be with another Ed - Hopper. Before I looked at Hopper in any detail (not a great deal of detail, just more than a cursory glance), there were two paintings that I was more aware of. One was Nighthawks 1942, the other Gas 1940. This taps into something that screams "AMERICANA" to me.  The white wooden-board walls, the old red petrol pumps, the proximity to nature (here it's woodlands rather than desert plains - maybe the north-east rather than the south west?). It's heavy with iconography, an idea of America that was exported heavily after the war through Hollywood and the American dream. Gas isn't his only petrol pump painting, there's Four Lane Road 1956 too, and probably others...

Edward Hopper: Gas 1942
(located at accessed 17/3/2015)

Drifting back to my own medium and photography, Robert Adams is a photographer I've long appreciated. Working in Colorado and the south-west, there is a similar feel to Ruscha's photographs - lots of space, but also civilisation. His book The New West points to the decline of the "wild west" and the encroachment of man into those natural spaces, a recurring theme for Adams the conservationist. In this collection there are 5 gas stations; Along Interstate 25 (p19), Sheridan Blvd (p69), Federal Blvd (p77), Golden (p93) and Pikes Peak (p105)

Alec Soth crossed America in From Here to There and to be honest there are surprisingly few gas stations included, but they do feature. Cemetery, Fountain City, Wisconsin 2002 is typical of the contemporary approach. A record of what was there, but filled with a sense of melancholy and detachment. I'll likely be talking some more about Soth in a future post on the road trip I plan to write.

Soth 2
Alec Soth - spread from The Open Road (Cemetery, Fountain City, Wisconsin 2002 on right)

Stephen Shore is another, Beverly Boulevard is classic Shore style. Cars, motel interiors and food are what normally come to mind when I think of his work. The road trip and what he eats on his trip. The petrol station is inexorably linked to the road trip, you really can't have one without the other... There are two photographs he took at the corner of Beverly Blvd and La Brea Ave in June 1975 (on different days, for some reason - maybe it just wasn't "so"). From these two we can see Chevron, Texaco, Gulf and Exxon, one on each corner. A reason that the petrol station is such an enduring topic perhaps? Or is it just because of the road trip?

Stephen Shore: Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1975
(located at accessed 17/3/2015)

It's not just the Americans either, Robert Frank has photographed them in The Americans. And Iñaki BergeraIt has too, he's a Spanish architect and photographer who I've found whilst researching this Ruscha based project (his website is here).  "Foreigners", but still they photograph American gasoline station though.

One of the more contemporary photographers I've seen photographing petrol stations (albeit in passing) is Kyler Zeleny. His Out West is perhaps more of a documentary on small town America than anything purporting to be about the road, but they're still featuring.
There's numerous others too, as you can see if you just Google the subject. True, not everything that comes to light that way is from an "artist" photographer, there's plenty that are just on Tumblr, Flickr and the other social media image sharing sites. But there's plenty to get to grips with going forward. Plenty to contextualise with. And probably most importantly, plenty of proof that this is a viable subject, that interests people and can go the distance for me.