The filling station has long fascinated artists, photographers, writers and filmmakers; seen as a defining symbol of American culture, a roadtrip stop-off or a place where strangers meet. This season, designer Miuccia Prada explored the graphic potential of American car culture for Prada S/S12 and had gas stations as the backdrop for her glorious campaigns shot by Steven Meisel.
Dating back to 1888, the first filling station was the city pharmacy in Wiesloch, Germany, where Bertha Benz refilled the tank of the first automobile on its maiden trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim. However, it is American "gas" stations that have become most iconic in popular culture – beginning with curbside pumps, later utiliitarian boxes with bays and in the 1980s, booth styles followed by convenience store set-ups. Roughly 200,000 gas stations operated across the States during the thirty years prior to the oli shocks of the 1970s; over 100,00 still operate.
The iconic structure was one of the most favoured subjects of American Pop artist Ed Ruscha who released his first book in 1963 entitled Twentysix Gasoline Stations, documenting stations scattered along Route 66. They have also featred in the work of photographers William Eggleston, Herb Ritts, Stephen Shore and Martin Parr, as well a backdrop in iconic film scenes including the first meeting of the Montague and Capulets in Romeo & Juliet, Back To The Future, The Birds, Brown Bunny and Paris Texas. There are also countless examples in literature, including Jack Keroac's On The Road which describes a station in Longmont, Colarado.
Today sees the opening of the King's Cross Filling Station, part of the area's 67-acre development. Conceived by architects Carmody Groarke, the striking translucent curvaceous fibreglass structure is intended to exist for at least two years. Overlooking Regent's canal, the Filling Station incorporates a social space with a cultural arts programme and new restaurant Shrimpy's. Founded by David Waddington co-director and Tom Collins who is chef director, the seafood-themed establishment includes colourful wall illustrations courtesy of Scottish-born, London-based artist Donald Urquhart.
Make booking for Shrimpy's here.
Text by Laura Bradley