Introducing an urban sensibility into the discourse of contemporary painting, Ruby has emerged as one of the most influential painters of the past decade, expanding the medium’s material territory through the application of a conceptual strategy that is reminiscent of artists such as Christopher Wool, Wade Guyton, Rudolf Stingel and Mike Kelley (to whom he was previously a studio assistant). Alongside the indisputable relevance of Ruby’s work as a contemporary practice, the artist also considers himself part of the continuous narrative of painting, and acknowledges the influence of the giants of Abstract Expressionism: “Rothko’s work is charged with an important spiritual power, it influenced me a lot” (Ibid., p. 102). The immeasurable depth of Mark Rothko’s shimmering canvases is indeed mirrored in SP145, as is the influence of Jackson Pollock through the all-over abstract pattern of paint splatters on the work’s surface.
Suspended in hazy chromatic expanses of lush and mysterious fields of paint, SP145 instantly invokes the sublime metaphysics of Abstract Expressionism. Set against a mesmerising inky black background executed in Ruby’s signature spray-painted sfumato technique, the crystal-clear drops of paint that rupture the calm washes of pigment create a dazzling suggestion of depth that invokes the expansive dimensions of galactic space. Executed in a commanding format that echoes the vast magnitude of the artist’s industrial studio in Los Angeles, SP145 stands as a testament to one of the most inventive bodies of work in contemporary painting.
Ruby’s idiosyncratic painterly language has its roots in the artist’s unorthodox background, growing up amidst the Amish communities and spending his student time between an initially purely formal, and then an altogether theoretical education. With either extreme resulting in artistic dissatisfaction, the artist has, over the years, formulated a powerful artistic vocabulary that has succeeded in seamlessly fusing the material and formal act of painting with a theoretically sophisticated understanding of its contested territory. Throughout his multi-faceted career, Ruby has experimented with a vast range of mediums, including painting, collage, sculpture, installation and video – in each instance embracing culturally devalued mediums or repurposing discarded materials.
Through his extensive exploration of the painterly potential of graffiti, SP145 epitomises Ruby's unique artistic language in which 'low' methods of mark making are appropriated and re-evaluated. With its misty layers of spray paint and a persuasive suggestion of space, the painting is a stunning example from Ruby’s comprehensive oeuvre. As the artist summarises perfectly: “I have always thought of art as similar to poetry, that it can’t be proven and yet, if done right, has a sense of unmistakable aura” (Sterling Ruby in conversation with João Ribas, ‘Sterling Ruby: Sincerely Hostile’, Flash Art, No. 271, March-April 2010, p. 82).
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