With a multi-faceted practice that includes installation, poured urethane sculptures, collages, videos and paintings, Los Angeles-based artist Sterling Ruby transcends any attempt at art historical pigeon-holing. His work is held in such prestigious collections as The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Guggenheim, New York, Rubell Family Collection, Miami and Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst, Oslo. Executed in 2008, SP32 takes spray paint as Ruby's material of choice, exploiting the sfumato quality of spray enamel in order to create a hazy and hallucinogenic expanse that hovers on the edge of abstraction and figuration. Ruby builds up layers of spray-paint of oranges, fuschias and emerald greens, which he accents with black with such technical virtuosity that the resulting image paradoxically reads as a vibrant abstract expressionist work. Indeed Ruby's painterly practice has been described as 'the sublime refinement of Mark Rothko crossed with the anarchic gestures of spray-can graffiti' (J. Deitch, quoted in The Painting Factory: Abstraction after Warhol, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 6).
A series rooted in the street culture in Los Angeles, Ruby has explained: 'My studio [in Los Angeles] was in Hazard Park, where the Avenues and MS13 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 during the night. Power paint sprayers were used to cover up the day's graffiti in a muted wash of either beige or gray. The city did this under the cover of darkness, while the gangs seemed to prefer the vulnerability of the day. One wall in particular seemed to be the primary site for these territorial disputes. By early morning, there would already be four to five rival tags, the markings were still decipherable. By nightfall the individual traces were impossible to break down. The tagging had become abstract. All territorial clashes, aggressive cryptograms, and death threats were 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. 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' (S. Ruby, quoted in The Painting Factory: Abstraction after Warhol, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 190).