Lot 11
  • 11

Sterling Ruby

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
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  • Sterling Ruby
  • SP86
  • signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated 10 on the reverse
  • spray paint on canvas
  • 243.8 by 213.4cm.; 96 by 84in.


Pace Gallery, New York

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2010


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is deeper and richer in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultra-violet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Suspended in hazy chromatic expanses of vibrant magenta and mysterious fields of luscious greens, Sterling Ruby’s SP86 is a hypnotic example of the artist’s revered series of Spray Paintings. Inspired by the graffiti scene in Los Angeles, these unbridled, immersive abstracts are rich in contemporary social commentary, innovatively exploring the socio-cultural problem of vandalism. In this respect, SP86 is immediately redolent of the paroxysmal, spray-painted marks of the iconic 1980s American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose early graffiti paintings propelled him to international fame. Equally, the mesmeric passages of pink and green colour fields call to mind the masterworks of the heroic Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko and the jubilant squeegee paintings of Gerhard Richter. Soaring 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 twenty years after Basquiat had begun to change the visual landscape of the Brooklyn street scene with his renowned graffiti works. 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. 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). Herein, Ruby has emerged as a highly influential forerunner in a bourgeoning group of artists, which include contemporary heavyweights such as Christopher Wool, Wade Guyton, Rudolf Stingel and Mike Kelley (to whom he was previously a studio assistant), who have expanded painting’s material potential though the application of an innovative conceptual strategy.

Executed on billboard-like proportions, which echo the extraordinary magnitude of the artist’s vast industrial studio in Los Angeles, SP68 utterly commands and consumes the viewer’s attention. In the present work, striations of inky black obscure the vaporous background of neon green and vivid pink. While the entire work possesses a magnificent pictorial cohesion, the individual colour fields evoke 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 not only with a visual sfumato effect, but also a sense of urgency to depict that retains the impulsiveness of graffiti art. Defined by a frenetic cacophony of colour and raw expressionistic force the work has a spellbinding, almost hallucinogenic effect. As a result, SP86 stands as a perfect exemplar of one of the most iconic and forward thinking corpuses in contemporary painting,

Through Ruby’s exhaustive and innovative exploration into the painterly possibilities of graffiti, SP86 embodies the artist’s unique lexicon that masterfully blends high and low art in perfect concert. Beyond the electrifying visual power of the present work’s dense fields of colour, lies a rich commentary on contemporary American society and the power struggles permeating urban America. Teeming with assured confidence and punk attitude, SP86 wholly confirms Ruby's position as one of the foremost artists of today.