Sterling Ruby (b. 1972)
Sterling Ruby (b. 1972)


Sterling Ruby (b. 1972)
signed with initials, titled and dated 'SR13 SP231' (on the reverse)
acrylic and spray enamel on canvas
96 x 84 in. (243.8 x 213.3 cm.)
Painted in 2013.
Courtesy of the artist; special thanks to James Lindon


Sterling Ruby is a west-coast artist known for his punk rock attitude, biomorphic sculptures, hypnotic videos, and, as demonstrated by the present lot, mesmerizing abstract canvases. Using spray paint as his main medium, Ruby gives SP231 a hazy texture that blurs one's perception of depth and space. A vibrant mist of red and black spans the width of the work in a multifaceted skyscape of varied texture and color. Upon first encounter, the enormous painting's dark palette and extremely worked surface emit a heavy pathos and a looming sense of unease. Yet where the reds become diffuse towards the top of the canvas, unexpected beauty emerges from the repressed violence felt through the darker tones. There is a development of color from gloomy, muted tones towards brighter, more vivid hues in a vertical scan of the canvas. This crescendo mimics a landscape with dense Earth and mountain ranges anchoring the bottom, complimented by amorphous yet powerful clouds rising to the upper register. The visually arresting canvas reveals itself not to be as dark as originally perceived.

A range of experiences including time spent working in construction, a brief career as a professional skateboarder, and work as a teaching assistant for Mike Kelley all formed the enigma that is Sterling Ruby. Ruby's background and upbringing were as diverse and unique as his artistic style is today. His creativity, similar to the masculinity he analyzes, is not limited to one medium, form, or scale. Hailed by New York Times art critic Roberta Smith as one of the most interesting artists to emerge in the twenty-first century, Ruby channels his frenetic energy through painting, video, sculpture, ceramics, collage, installation art, and photography.

While Ruby finds artistic classification and labels stifling, the deep, moody, red and black amorphous clouds of SP231, used to evoke themes of urban violence, do harken back to the earlier Abstract Expressionist masterworks of Mark Rothko. Ruby's abstraction has a blurred effect similar to that of the color masses in Mark Rothko's Untitled 1959. Both artists created large-scale incandescent canvases that have monumental wall presences. Like Rothko's Untitled, 1959, Ruby's SP231 engulfs the viewer with its aggressively beautiful swirls of energy. The horizontal black forms in both canvases make for similar color distribution and create a sense of calm within turbulent color fields.

Although Ruby's SP231 enigmatically invokes Abstract Expressionism, he incites a different thought process than that of his transcendental predecessors. Artists like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman used abstraction to remove us from the everyday - to transcend to the sublime. Their luminous colors are meant to evoke and create transcendental experience. Ruby, on the other hand, uses abstraction to tether us to our world. His work is highly physical and raw. He directly engages with Minimalism's rhetoric of authority and control with visceral deconstructions and reconstructions of the movement's primary methods. While Rothko hoped to create a spiritual experience for the viewer, Ruby provokes us by dissecting issues of urban violence, societal repression, and individual liberation within these masses of color. Amidst the heated reds and blacks of SP231, Ruby entangles ideals of beauty with issues of repression and expression.

From stalagmite sculptures to sexually suggestive video art, Ruby's diverse oeuvre is an overall homage to the dissimilitude of our collective past. His works address the failures of reductive art's autonomous pursuits by indulging in the excess that seems to be the destiny of both our society and our art. By actively embracing the culture that he critiques, and by revising the reality within which his art exists, Ruby both examines and bridges the space where individual expression confronts social constraint.