Sterling Ruby - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Sunday, November 8, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    SP36 is among Sterling Ruby’s earliest monumental spray paint compositions. It is part of a celebrated body of work that emerged from the artist’s observations of “tagging, vandalism and the power struggles associated with gang graffiti” in the area around his studio in Hazard Park, Los Angeles. (B. Walsh, “The Survivalist: Q+A With Sterling Ruby”, Art in America, March 18, 2011) Ruby approaches the canvas as if he were drawing and tags it in vibrant colors. The work is characterized by an illusionistic abstraction, as the canvas was never actually touched by a brush. Ruby then ritualistically and repeatedly goes back over the tags with dark paint, meticulously working the piece’s surface while the splatters and drips that gather across the canvas offer a sort of visible white noise, discerning an authenticity of a canvas that has not been tidied or fixed of any “mistakes.” The resultant sfumato haze that partially conceals the original signage is reminiscent of city governments’ efforts to cover up or “mute” graffiti with regular applications of neutrally colored paint by power paint sprayers.

    SP36 is an exuberant and superb representation of this very particular inspiration. The upper register of the painting is rendered in an acid pink while the lower two-thirds are mastered in an aggressive lime green. Interspersed throughout, in wonderful whorls and agitated horizontal lines, are black pentimenti reminiscent of the overwritten graffiti. The seemingly obscured text draws in the viewer’s eye as the intense coloring radiates and pulsates with the energy of the street. Everything about the pictures is both confounding and simultaneously intriguing in its own decomposition. What is left is a sort of landscape, a depiction of Ruby’s environs in a most specific fashion.

    Observing the cyclical battles over public space, Ruby noted, “All territorial clashes, aggressive cryptograms, and death threats were nullified into a mass of spray-painted gestures that became nothing more than atmosphere, their violent disputes transposed into an immense, outdoor, nonrepresentational mural” (S. Ruby quoted in The Painting Factory: Abstraction after Warhol, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 190). SP36 thus involves competing elements: the effulgent, additive excess that arises from the act of compulsive tagging and the painstaking exertion of formal aesthetic control in the subsequent application of dark, cloaking paint. The result is a dialectical patchwork of expression and repression, an aesthetic of urban decay, detritus, and dispute.

Property from an Important Private Collection, Los Angeles



spray paint on canvas
96 x 84 in. (243.8 x 213.4 cm)
Initialed, titled and dated "'SP36' SR08" on the reverse.

$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $629,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 November 2015 7pm