Sterling Ruby - New Now New York Tuesday, March 12, 2024 | Phillips

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  • ‘‘My studio was in Hazard Park, where gangs were fighting over drugs and territory. Their disputes were visually apparent through massive amounts of tagging. The city responded by sending out their anti-graffiti teams.... Power paint sprayers were used to cover up the day’s graffiti in a muted wash of either beige or grey... All territorial clashes, aggressive cryptograms, and death threats nullified into a mass of spray-painted gestures that had become nothing more than atmosphere, their violent disputes transposed into an immense, outdoor, nonrepresentational mural. I started painting again when I saw this.’’
    —Sterling Ruby

    Executed in 2011, Sterling Ruby's SP183 is a monumental piece from the artist’s  acclaimed Spray Paint, or "SP," series, showcasing the artist's unique style and approach to abstraction. Ruby first embarked on the spray paintings in 2007, having been inspired by the materiality and scale of graffiti-covered city walls in his Los Angeles neighborhood. Informed by a deep-seated fascination with the sociological implications of urban demarcation, vandalism, and the power dynamics inherent in gang graffiti, Ruby draws inspiration from the layers of tagging that accumulate over time. As these layers bear witness to territorial clashes, they gradually evolve into mere impression, losing their initial order and, ultimately, their original meanings and authority. Ruby describes the exchanges between graffiti writers and the city’s white washers, remarking on the cyclical choreography of ‘tagging’ and cover-up through which thousands of gestures become ‘nothing more than atmosphere,’ a kind of abstraction.


    Indeed, the spray paintings resonate with Abstract Expressionism, particularly the color field painting of the post-war era. Aligned with Mark Rothko's vision, Ruby explores color as a subject. Visual reverberations become apparent through both the paintings' considerable size and their shared quality of being simultaneously immersive and expansive. Former director of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Jeffrey Deitch describes Ruby’s visually arresting spray paintings as ‘the sublime refinement of Mark Rothko… crossed with the anarchic gestures of spray-can graffiti’.i This juxtaposition creates a provocative contrast between the sacred and profane, as Ruby appropriates established artistic methods, infusing them with novel significance while maintaining his unique approach.


    In SP183, Ruby grapples with the dichotomy of creation and destruction, pushing the boundaries of conventional artistic expression. The artist’s use of spray paint and concentration of color, ranging from pockets of inky black to swathes of deep charcoal, creates an atmospheric intensity that envelops the observer. Ruby’s treatment of the paint is both deliberate and spontaneous, capturing the essence of controlled spontaneity. The interplay of light and shadow within the darker hues accentuates the gestural energy, as if the canvas itself is a witness to an emotional tempest. The depth of Ruby's conceptual prowess is on full display in the nuanced symbolism embedded within the dark palette examples. The artist invites contemplation on themes of existentialism and the enigmatic nature of the human psyche. Each arc of spray becomes a poetic gesture, resonating with a primal rhythm that transcends the visual and delves into the visceral.


    i Jeffrey Deitch, quoted in The Painting Factory: Abstraction after Warhol, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 6

    • Provenance

      Lindon & Co., London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2012



signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated "SR 11 'SP183'" on the reverse
spray paint on canvas
125 x 185 x 2 in. (317.5 x 469.9 x 5.1 cm)
Executed in 2011.

Full Cataloguing

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $165,100

Contact Specialist

Avery Semjen
Associate Specialist, Head of New Now Sale
T +1 212 940 1207

New Now

New York Auction 12 March 2024