ER: In the early 1950s I was awakened by the photographs of Walker Evans and the movies of John Ford, especially Grapes of Wrath where the poor “Okies” (mostly farmers whose land dried up) go to California with mattresses on their cars rather than stay in Oklahoma and starve. I faced a sort of black-and-white cinematic emotional identity crisis myself in this respect—sort of a showdown with myself—a little like trading dust for oranges. On the way to California I discovered the importance of gas stations. They are like trees because they are there. They were not chosen because they were pop-like but because they have angles, colors, and shapes, like trees. They were just there, so they were not in my visual focus because they were supposed to be social-nerve endings.
. . . BB: For the last fifteen years or so that you have been using words and sentences, they have always been painted or drawn on paper or canvas, never directly on a wall as Lawrence Weiner or Victor Burgin do. Why do you need to present a “picture”?
ER: This seems to be a question of permanence versus mobility. I am a victim of the power of the four-sided rectangle and I think it is here to stay. It seems so logical to make a mobile picture.
“Interview with Edward Ruscha,” Bernard Brunon, Leave any Information at the Signal p. 250-251
I grew up about two miles from the Hilltop labor camp portrayed in Grapes of Wrath. I’ve always felt a stronger connection to gas stations and telephone poles than trees; Ruscha makes perfect sense to me. Gas stations and telephone poles were just “there” in a way that nature wasn’t—I never thought of what they “did” as social nerves, they were simply part of the visual field I found interesting when I began making pictures. Mobility is just there, a part of the background noise of the world I have lived in.