Edward Joseph Ruscha IV (roo-SHAY; born December 16, 1937) is an American artist associated with the Pop art movement. He has worked in the media of painting, printmaking, drawing, photography, and film. Ruscha lives and works in Culver City, California.
A lot of critics have assigned a religious sub-text to the work, seeing a correlation between the gasoline stations and the 14 Stations of the Cross, traditionally the staging posts between Pilate's condemnation and the burial of Christ after His crucifixion on Calvary. Ruscha, a lapsed catholic, has gone some way to supporting this view in interviews:
There is a connection between my work and my experience with religious icons, and the stations of the cross and the Church generally, but it's in one of method, you know; I do have some flavors that come over, like the incense... we all go through stages... the attitude comes out of a whole style of living and then coming up with statements.The book has also been cited as an artist's book equivalent of a road movie, and as a pop version of Walker Evans' photos of America, such as his deserted gasoline station in 'Highway Corner Reedsville West Virginia, 1935'. (Although Ruscha has admitted knowledge of Evans' work, he has dismissed it as an influence.) The last image, of a Fina station, has been interpreted as a Duchampian pun on Fin (end).
In that moment, I became an art critic – or, more precisely, an art dealer, since I bought all five books. Because it wasn’t just personal. Ruscha’s book nailed something that, for my generation, needed to be nailed: the Pop-Minimalist vision of the Road. Jack Kerouac had nailed the ecstatic, beatnik Road. Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady were, at that moment, nailing the acid-hippie Road, and now Ruscha had nailed the road through realms of absence – that exquisite, iterative progress through the domain of names and places, through vacant landscapes of windblown, ephemeral language.
"Twentysix Gasoline Stations" was dry, deadpan and pretty much boring. As Ruscha commented above there is no aesthetic glorification in the depiction of the imagery, just a poker-faced collection of unremarkable snapshots of roadside gas stations arranged in a visual photo-conceptual typology of sorts. The photographs therein were unprofessionally photographed and deliberately anti-aestheticized. Accordingly the book's cover title was typeset as three centered lines of capitalized type whose only extravagance was its bright red color appearing on a white ground. The presentation of this puzzling little book with its interior series of black and white photographs has certainly created a fuss over the years since it was first published in 1962 from both art critics and the art community.
Indeed, critical response to Ruscha's series of mass-produced, ubiquitous artist photobooks has been at times downright hostile, for instance consider conceptual photographer, Jeff Wall's commentary describing Ruscha's books; "Only an idiot would take pictures of nothing but the filling stations, and the existence of a book of just those pictures is a kind of proof of the existence of such a person."