Lot 28
  • 28

Sterling Ruby

400,000 - 600,000 EUR
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  • Sterling Ruby
  • SP30
  • signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated 08 on the reverse
  • acrylic and spray paint on canvas, mounted on foldable stretcher
  • 254 x 366 cm; 100 x 144 1/8 in.
  • Executed in 2008.


Metro Pictures, New York
Private Collection, Switzerland
Sale: Sotheby's London, Contemporary Art, 16 October 2009, lot 129
Collection Alain & Candice Fraiberger


Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Sterling Ruby: SUPERMAX 2008, June - September 2008; catalogue, pp. 108, 109, illustrated in colour


Exh. Cat., Bergamo, Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Sterling Ruby: GRID RIPPER, 2008, pp. 2, 3, illustrated in colour 


The colors are less contrasted in the original work and the overall tonality is softer/lighter than in the catalogue illustration. Moreover, the catalogue illustration does not accurately depic the drippings nor does it reveal the variety of the palette including pink, red, black and green. The work is in very good condition.
"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

SP 30's surface is washed in fluorescent colors—colors that may be foreign to a painter's palette but more readily seen in the spray paint aisle. Its lemon-lime greens, bright pinks, tangerines, and teals are cut through by amorphous intrusions of black. Both SP 30's material and monumental size gestures toward the urban space of an empty wall, one once blank but now occupied and covered by illicit graffiti. The spray paint leaves both a hazy, washed-out look and a stippled effect on the surface of the huge canvas. Within the frame of the work, there is a vague horizon line visible through the black, found where the warm tones of the painting's top edge fade down into greens and blues. But beyond that subtle horizon line, invoking a sense of landscape, or in the very least of some symbolic space, SP 30 remains obtuse, an exercise in layered color, material manipulation, and an ode, perhaps, to spray-painted tags, murals, and symbols that cover much of the Los Angeles landscape.
Sterling Ruby is a Los Angeles based artist who works in a wide variety of media; indeed, the vast diversity of his output has become one of his signatures. From heavy, ceramic vessels and bulging soft sculptures, to collage-based paintings and aerosol based works, Ruby's aesthetic is difficult to pin down. It is both expansive and seemingly ever-expanding. As Gea Politi noted in a 2014 article for Flash Art, "[Ruby's] work is as complex as the American empire. It addresses numerous topics, including aberrant psychologies (particularly schizophrenia and paranoia), urban gangs and graffiti, hip-hop culture, craft, punk, masculinity, violence, public art, prisons, globalization, American domination and decline, waste and consumption." Working through this many topics in as many media, it is perhaps no surprise that Ruby has garnered significant attention for his broad-based and prolific practice.

Ruby's SP 30 privileges color, gesture, and action in a way that is reminiscent of the work of American Abstract Expressionists. Chief among them is Jackson Pollock, whose rich fields of overlapping spatters of paint are so iconic. It seems that there are analogies to be made in both the visuality and the physicality of Jackson's and Ruby's works. Both men work largely, creating dense and abstract fields. The taxing physical nature of these projects is also mirrored in the work of urban graffiti writers who provide Ruby with further inspiration. Graffiti writers use their bodies similarly, often working at challenging scales, and of course, under the cloak of illegality.

Began as a series in 2007, Ruby's spray paintings are meant to refer back to the practice of tagging territory. Graffiti writers use a variety of materials, but chiefly, spray paint, to inscribe their name, symbol, or sign on the surfaces of their streets. Still heavily associated with gang activities in urban cities like Los Angeles, graffiti serves an underground function—to claim and identify space, demarcating lines of ownership and belonging. In Ruby's hands, the tagger's aerosol can seem to get the best of him: instead of producing images that define space and self, Ruby's spray paint descends into a murky field, where nothing is communicated, nothing is clear. These spray painted works, then, become something of a statement of the artist's post-modern position, an affirmation of a certain lack of certainty. Though monumentally sized and visually bold, SP 30 maintains a steadfast ambiguity.