Sterling Ruby - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Friday, April 16, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'I like to think about art as being similar to poetry- it can't be proven. It just exists and there's an aura about it that people get or don't get. Beauty has to do a lot with that.'
    —Sterling Ruby
    Sterling Ruby’s SP151, a richly textured, large-scale painting on canvas is part of the Spray Painting series from 2007. Drawing inspiration from the urban architecture and Los Angeles’ shifting landscapes, these works represent the crown achievements within a vastly diverse practice which includes installation, collage, video and sculpture.

    'The tagging had become abstract. (…) The city teams would then continue the cycle with a clean slate that evening, and it would start all over the next morning. I started painting again when I saw this.' —Sterling RubyRuby’s work tackles themes such as liberation and suppression, conformity and marginality, passivity and aggression. Inspired by urban vandalism, and the relationship between local graffiti artists and the authorities, Ruby uses autobiographical and socio-political contexts as a starting point for his creative work. Upon moving to Los Angeles, Ruby was overwhelmed by the city’s architecture which was profusely covered in street art. Thus, he started to integrate a technique usually associated with graffiti and street art and allied it with the formal language of abstract painting.  Merging fluidity of forms with the spontaneity of colours adds an immersive quality to these paintings, almost refining the aesthetic and gestural quality found in the work of the Abstract Expressionists. The artist notes, ‘Rothko’s work is charged with an important spiritual power, it influenced me a lot’.i


    Mark Rothko, Four Darks in Red, 1958, oil on canvas, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Image: © 2021. Digital image Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko ARS, NY and DACS, London 2021.

    'I like the idea that what I’m doing is an abstraction of something I am experiencing in real life, but in all actuality, I think it’s my visual description of it.'
    —Sterling Ruby
    As an abstract work, SP151 is reminiscent of a landscape or urban architecture with the foreground, almost like a barred window outside a dark sky. The colour palette consisting predominately of black with highlights of white, red and blue, allows for veils of colour to accumulate in shimmering bands, creating a kaleidoscopic haze that appears to linger before the canvas. The variety of linear orientations, with trails of vertical and horizontal lines, bisecting each other and the density of the layers of paint all merge to form a stunning example of Ruby’s comprehensive oeuvre. The sheer size enhances the work’s enthralling and atmospheric qualities. The ambiguity of the subject matter is highlighted by the title as paintings in this series are given a sequential numeric code with ‘SP’ to indicate the medium.

    'Everything I do holds a kind of gesture in it. For me, it’s this kind of dramatic gesture. A truncated gesture. It’s like an expression that was as one point very fervent and then it just gets kind of stopped.' —Sterling RubySP151 epitomises Ruby’s unique use of spray paint and urban aesthetic while still resonating with the recognised language and taste of the abstract tradition. Ruby redefines pre-established artistic practices, but giving them new form and meaning while maintaining his characteristic style.


    Sterling Ruby in interview with ASX, This Manic Circle, 26 March 2019


    i Sterling Ruby in conversation with Jérôme Sans, ‘Schizophrenic Monuments’, L’Officiel Art, March-May, 2013, p. 102.

    • Provenance

      Sprüth Magers, Berlin
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2011

    • Exhibited

      Berlin, Sprüth Magers, Sterling Ruby: I am not free because I can be exploded anytime, 8 April - 28 May 2011
      Berlin, me Collectors Room / Olbricht Foundation, My Abstract World, 14 September 2016 - 2 April 2017

    • Literature

      The Pace Gallery, Sterling Ruby Desktop Vol.I, Beijing, 2011, n.p. (illustrated)
      The Painting Factory: Abstraction After Warhol, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 193 (illustrated)



signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated 'SR 10 'SP151'' on the reverse
spray paint on canvas
317.5 x 469.9 cm (125 x 185 in.)
Painted in 2010.

Full Cataloguing

£250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for £390,600

Contact Specialist


Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Director, Head of Day Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

+ 44 20 7318 4065



20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 16 April 2021