It is this radical upending of tradition that has seen Ruby soar to global prominence in under a decade. Ruby’s works are held in prestigious institutional collections, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, the Rubell Family Collection, Miami and the Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst, Oslo.
Ruby first conceived of the exuberant Spray Paintings in 2007, some 20 years after Basquiat teared through the barriers that separated the street from the white cube. Synonymous with vandalism and gang activities, graffiti served as a mark of rebellion, a tool to contend authoritarian limits and boundaries. In cities like Los Angeles, it symbolised the potent struggle of minorities, a form of radical mark making that asserted ownership and authority. The more raw the better, graffiti chose its canvas indiscriminately. The side-cars, walls and ledges of the graffiti artist were worlds away from the high-minded purity of the white cube’s walls. As the artist explains, “my work evolved from looking at graffiti, vandalism, the violence of tags in the streets and other forms of visual aggression, but as is more and more the case in my work, my painting has become more formal, more abstract... I think of it in terms of space, depth, punctuation or colour, as I imagine artists have been doing for centuries” (Sterling Ruby in conversation with Jérôme Sans, ‘Schizophrenic Monuments’, L’Officiel Art, March-May 2013, p. 102). By expanding painting’s potential though the application of an innovative conceptual strategy, Ruby has inherited the artistic legacy of a seminal group of artists including Christopher Wool, Wade Guyton, Rudolf Stingel and Mike Kelley (to whom he was previously a studio assistant).
Executed on billboard-like proportions, which echo the extraordinary magnitude of the artist’s vast industrial studio in Los Angeles, SP114 utterly commands and consumes the viewer’s attention. In the present work, striations of inky black spray paint obscure the smoky background of neon green and pink. Individual neons jump and jar, fighting each other for the viewer’s attention while the greater whole evokes a distant horizon, a hazy, half-seen or remembered landscape, blurred by the sweeping accretions of spray paint. Interspersing strokes and drips of paint imbue the work with a visual sfumato effect. Defined by a frenetic cacophony of colour, the raw expressionistic force the work becomes almost hallucinogenic. Yet the key stone to this work lies not in the aggressive laying down of spray paint, but the few flicks of paint that hover over the surface. It is this subtle layer that lend the colour field a depth, allowing the viewer to plunge themselves past this thin gauze of paint and envelope themselves in the graffiti below.
SP114 embodies the artist’s unique ability to blend high and low art. Beyond the electrifying visual power of the work lies a commentary on the richness of America’s street culture. The work postures with punk attitude. It a visual rock concert that finds its home in equal measure on both the street or in world’s foremost collections – both public and private.
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