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  • Provenance

    Galleria Emi Fontana, Milan

  • Catalogue Essay

    “He has the attitude of a grunge rocker with a head full of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud”
    Ken Johnson, The New York Times

    Immersed in the street culture of Los Angeles, Sterling Ruby’s surroundings are a prevalent infuence on his work. He is known for using an eclectic range of mediums and experimenting with a wide range of disciplines, from mammoth urethane sculptures to ceramics and collage, all retaining an urban aesthetic that echoes the city. The present lot shows Ruby’s use of spray paint on canvas. Commonly associated with grafti, this medium is an example of the artist’s influences, surroundings and references marginalized societies, urban gangs and prisons. However, Ruby appropriates this medium and uses it to create layers of pictorial space, reminiscent of the works of Richter or Rothko.

    The present lot, SP56, is a monumental piece painted predominantly in black and grey hues. Ruby’s use of spray paint gives a smoky texture to the piece, creating the appearance of a storm or turbulent waters. The dark colours, grand scale and hazy technique all contribute to the strong atmosphere of the work. Consequently, a sombre mood is evoked which is in keeping with Ruby’s tough urban aesthetic and recalls the realistic tone of the metropolitan areas in which most graffiti is found. The abstract nature of the piece, notably the limited colour palette and lack of figurative representation to evoke a mood, is reminiscent of Mark Rothko’s colour felds. However, Ruby pushes this boundary further by experimenting with contemporary materials. The layers of spray paint, both horizontal and diagonal, build depth in the picture plane, engrossing the viewer. Flecks of paint across the surface of the piece contrast these layers and highlight their cloudy, dark appearance. Furthermore, the pictorial space and mood of this piece gives an almost haunting aesthetic; it has been noted, “The distinction in these works is not between fgure and ground, but between a series
    of competing planes of atmospheric color that alternately foat against the painting’s surface and then recede like so many afer-images” (D. Spalding, Art Agenda, Nov 2011). Through this use of illusionistic space, we see comparisons with Gerhard Richter, also known for creating depth with just paint on canvas. Few colours have been used by Ruby, yet, the tangibility of space is remarkable.

    Ruby’s creation of pictorial depth without fgurative references is thoroughly abstract, as is typical of his oeuvre. However, it is his use of spray paint that makes this work unique. By taking a medium so closely tied with defacement, gangs and grafti and using it to create unique textures on canvas, Ruby creates a dialogue between street art and contemporary art. His works are symbols of metropolitan culture echoing the infuences around him.



spray paint on canvas
243.9 x 213.4 cm. (96 x 84 in.)
Signed, titled, and dated “SR.08 SP56” on reverse.

£500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for £494,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
[email protected]
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Evening Sale 10 February 2014 7pm