As much an American pop art icon as an Andy Warhol Campbell soup can or a Roy Lichtenstein comic book scene, Ed Ruscha's Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas (1963) is a streamlined, radically foreshortened view of a gasoline station that shines with the hope of the open road.
But telling another story in the McNay Art Museum's "Regarding Ruscha" is San Antonio artist Jacqueline "Jack" McGilvray's drawing You Can't Sleep Here (2014), a dark, haunting view of a gas station's lights in a car's back window as if seen by a child crouching in the back seat. McGilvray spent part of her childhood homeless and she remembers the night her family tried to park their car at a service station to rest, but they were told to move on.
While Ruscha's famous image could symbolize the fantastic future of the American Dream fueled by big oil companies, McGilvray provides a sobering corrective with a chilling reminder of cold-hearted corporate indifference.
Currently the exhibitions and programs manager at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, McGilvray is one of a dozen local artists Lyle Williams, McNay curator of prints and drawings, asked to respond to Ruscha (roo-SHAY) and his influence on contemporary American art.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, Ruscha often drove Route 66 from Los Angeles to his family home in Oklahoma City. Along the way, he snapped photographs collected in his first artist's book, Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963). From it, he created a monumental painting of the Amarillo station that now belongs to Dartmouth College's Hood Museum of Art, but the image became a two-dimensional celebrity through the prints he created. The McNay's Standard Station (1966) is a rare artist's proof of Ruscha's iconic screen print, which he explored in a variety of ways.
For example, Mocha Standard exchanges the bright primary colors for brown tones. Cheese Mold Standard with Olive has a greenish cast. The McNay is also displaying Ruscha's most recent iteration, Ghost Station (2011), which omits color entirely. Created by the Mixografia print workshop in Los Angeles, it is an extremely subtle three-dimensional cast paper embossed print, apropos for the vanishing full-service gas station.
Roadside markers between San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley inspired Ethel Shipton's new series of screen prints, Exits, based on photographs of highway exits with mileage signs informing drivers that only a mile separates Laredo and Nuevo Laredo — though they remain worlds apart. During an artist's residency in Berlin, Chris Sauter drew Support Structure, which imagines the rooftop rear view of the crossbeams holding up the Standard station sign. Joe de la Cruz uses bright, slightly cartoonish colors in his gouache on paper, Randy's Ballroom, a nostalgic view of the 1960s-vintage sign on Bandera marking the place where the Sex Pistols imploded.
Using a pre-GPS Rand McNally map of Oklahoma, Amber Pinzon Wilcox overlaid the image of an American bison on a six-cent stamp in We Lean Forward, recalling childhood road trips. Working with graphite on aluminum, Ty Wilcox incorporates silhouettes of an old barn and farmhouse on property his family owns backed by letters reading "I Saw It As Several Other Things" in the wistful Gone, Gone, Gone. Jeremiah Teutsch also alludes to the hazards of fading memory with three painted-over spaces suggesting crossed-out graffiti in Cityscapes: Give My Regards to Ed Ruscha.
Much of Ruscha's work has a cinematic quality, such as the McNay's lithograph The End, resembling the final frame of an old, scratchy black-and-white film. Nate Cassie evokes the glitz of modern Hollywood with gold metallic foil on paper in his work titled simply End.
Ed Saavedra recalls an "Undiluted Western Spoof" his family had on 8mm film, What Indians?, actually a condensed version of the 1966 comedy Texas Across the River featuring Joey Bishop as a Native American. Using acrylic and spray paint on panel, Saavedra mocks Hollywood's racist stereotypes. Amada Claire Miller causes you to roll your eyes with Going Up.
The quintessential Los Angeles artist, Ruscha combines words, images, objects and landscapes in deadpan ways that can be humorous or sinister, such as his infamous Los Angeles County Museum on Fire. Taking his cue, Benjamin McVey focuses on the space between the burning towers of the World Trade Center in the minimalist Forced Lines II, which also can be read as a gas flare or an erupting geyser. A prolific printmaker since the 1960s, Ruscha has created more than 300 prints and some 20 artist's books showing how to bridge pop art and conceptualism.
$5-$10, 10am-4pm Wed, 10am-9pm Thu, 10am-4pm Fri, 10am-5pm Sat, noon-5pm Sun, 10am-4pm Tue, McNay Art Museum, 6000 N New Braunfels, (210) 824-5368, mcnayart.org. Through May 17