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£400,000 - 600,000
Metro Pictures, New York
Private Collection, London
Phillip's, London, 2 July 2014, lot 7
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Suspended in a network of hazy fluorescent pigments, Sterling Ruby’s SP33 is a hypnotically abstract example of the artist’s admired series SP - an acronym that designates the ‘spray painting’ technique.
Twenty years after Basquiat's ground-breaking graffiti had begun to revolutionise the visual landscape of the Brooklyn street scene, Ruby first conceived the kaleidoscopic Spray Paintings in 2007. A subjective response to tagging and defacement of public spaces- a common sight in urban environments such as the artist’s home-city of Los Angeles. Synonymous with vandalism, graffiti functioned as a mean of rebellion for sub-cultures and minorities to contend ownership and authority. Tackling the sociological implications of urban demarcation, Ruby’s spray paintings purposely employ abstraction to convey destruction of clear order, standing for freedom of expression. The resulting works don’t produce images of space and self, they rather descend into a cloudy field, eventually becoming the artist’s visual commentary on the lack of certainty.
Realised in billboard-like proportions, SP33 utterly commands and consumes the viewer’s attention. Herein the surface possesses a washed-out look with pulsating striations of acrylic spray paint that span the length of this horizontal work in a multi-layered ocean of colour and form. The top and bottom section of the canvas are predominantly lemon-lime green and bright acid pink, while in the foreground the two contrasting hues interweave and blend together. A thick nebulous and blackened wave inundates the centre. Within the frame of the work, a vague horizon line emerges through this amorphous intrusion of black lines that separate the land from the sky, where the warm tones of the painting's top edge fade down into greens, invoking a sense of atmospheric landscape.
Although Ruby's SP33, as well as many other examples from the series, enigmatically suggests a link with Abstract Expressionism, the artist however incites a different logic. Unlike his transcendental predecessors, in his highly physical and raw works Ruby aims to tether us to our world, gravitating towards the street art practices of the urban area in which he lives and works, and which he sees daily from his car—layer upon layer, history upon history, tag upon tag. In fact in depicting the California scene with a stylized visual language and through the use of spray paint one can surely liken Ruby’s SP series to the work of Ed Ruscha. While the latter expresses a profound understanding of the so-called process of Californication, by encapsulating its emblems and icons into abstracted words, the first innovatively investigates the other side of the coin, that of the urban vandalism, a phenomenon which is deeply rooted in the street culture of Los Angeles. Here, Ruby removes painting from the realm of luxurious beauty and pushes it toward an aesthetic of deterioration, which, as the artist himself claimed, can be considered ‘..as a type of beauty. Like an entropic beauty. That’s perhaps very gothic or very baroque, to a certain extent […] It’s interesting to see how beauty is represented and how different takes on beauty can be so dichotomous and different.’ (Sterling Ruby on beauty, The Utopia Parkway Files, online resource) Amidst the pinks, blacks and greens of SP33, Ruby entangles contemporary ideals of beauty with issues of repression and expression.
£400,000 - 600,000
London Auction 5 October 2016