STERLING RUBY:VIVIDS

Installation views, 2014, Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong

Installation views, 2014, Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong

Throughout his career it has been Ruby’s installation work, deliberately inchoate hybrids of forms and media, that has earned him the most critical attention. They touch a nerve with their visceral, gutter urbanism, which conjures a history of American violence and anxiety. Often, his spray paintings serve as mere backdrops to the visual chaos that unfolds with his in- stallations and sculptures. But, stripped of this visual anarchy in the space, his paintings prove equally arresting and surprisingly beautiful.

As you step into the gallery, you are greeted with the familiar long table manned by gallery staff in a sterile white entry space. The room is silent, bare, minimal. Keeping it this way is a deliberate choice on the part of the artist all the better to shock you because, as you turn your head to the left towards the gallery space, you are assaulted by a line of large, violently neon spray paintings, all uniform in size at 213 x 244 centimeters, meant to overwhelm and envelop you.

The contrast between the two rooms couldn’t be more marked. Ruby clearly enjoys playing off this distinction, a punk’s act of rebelliousness creating a tension between two visual languages; on the one hand the severe, stripped-back language of minimalism implied by the gallery environs, and on the other spray painted graffiti, a language loaded with symbolism suggestive of vandalism, punk, protest, gang tagging, and spontaneity. The exhibition, titled “VIVIDS,” is Ruby’s homage to his city of Los Angeles. It comes to life inspired by the “vivid and colorful sunrises and sunsets, yielding horizon lines that transform the urban sprawl into a meditative celestial plane” that the artist witnesses daily on his drive from his home to his studio in downtown LA.

Installation views, 2014, Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong

Installation views, 2014, Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong

The nine paintings pop and pulse with color. They ring in your ears and fill your head with fluorescent white noise. They are bold, energized, and savage. The sprayed-on colors, in a palette of green, pink, and white anchored on a base of black, reflect off the polished floorboards and white walls, and are further played up by the extra bright neon lights the gallery has installed specifically for this purpose.

In print, Ruby’s work looks somewhat subdued, benign, and flat, but, in person, these works are more than decorative compositions. They demand viewer engagement and a closer look. Colors are sprayed on and layered without the interference of a brush and without deliberation or pause for touch-ups. There is an impulsiveness driving the spray paint across the surface of the canvas, much like the hastily scrawled gang tags that the artist often references in his work. The layers of spray paint are not textural, but rather so smooth that the surface of the canvas at times looks like it has been screen-printed.

There is nothing calm and serene about these paintings. There is energy and movement in the pieces as mottled bands of color buzz, as though charged with electricity, and form horizon lines in which one can divine landscapes. Thin layers of color float atop one another on a base of black spray paint like toxic clouds of gas. The effect is soft and dimensional, giving the impression of light diffused through layers of smog and haze. A few works grouped together in a corner, SP301, SP299, and SP302, composed of blockier plains of color, call to mind collector and gallerist Adam Lindemann’s description of Ruby as the “graffiti Rothko.” The surface of each painting is interrupted by drips of ipaint dissecting the center in two vertical movements, a nod to that most monumental of American abstract expressionists, Jackson Pollock, and a deliberate gesture of defacement rooted in youth subcultures. Out of an act of vandalism, Ruby succeeds in creating a series of atmospheric and startlingly vibrant paintings. Diana d’Arenberg

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Post in: Reviews | January 5 , 2015 | Tag in: LEAP 29 | Diana d’Arenberg
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