‘The large fabric pieces of the fag, the fabric paintings, and fabric collages are really based on quilts. I’ve always been somewhat obsessed… they were one of my early visuals, because we lived so close to Lancaster and I had a lot of friends who were Amish. I saw quilts before I saw any sort of Pop art or geometric art. Over time, I really started to like Japanese boro textiles, which are a kind of transformation from the utilitarian to the aesthetic. With boro textiles, when your clothing gets too worn out from working too hard, you turn it into a quilt or a tapestry. It’s this exchange between something that was once used as clothing for something that is looked at as an aesthetic. And I’m doing the exact opposite—we tend to dye, bleach, and paint fabric canvas in the studio almost every day. Then I hand the scraps to my patternmaker and I have her make clothing. I think in many ways I like the universalness of not only formalism but also recognizable icons of use, value, and associations. I like that. Not everything has to be a complete abstract’ (S. Ruby, quoted in ‘Sterling Ruby Talks His New Show, Punk Rock, and Why You Won’t Find Him at Frieze’, http://www.style.com/stylefle/2014/05/sterling-ruby-talks-new-show-punk-rock-wont-fnd-frieze/ [accessed 3 June 2014]).
Extending over two metres in height and three metres in width, Sterling Ruby’s BC (4083) is a monumental work that engulfs the viewer in an explosion of texture and colour. This spectacular collage, in which pieces of brightly coloured fabric are pasted onto the bleach sprayed black denim, conveys an extraordinary sense of depth that draws the viewer in. Through the repressed violence of the spattered denim, a sense of raw energy emerges from the vibrant materials that have been given new life on the canvas. 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 2012, BC (4083) forms part of Ruby’s highly distinctive Bleach Collage series. Ruby embraces devalued materials, playfully re-appropriating them as the medium of this captivating work. The origins of the fabric collage works harks back to Ruby’s interest in the abstract patterns of hand-made quilts. To an extent, he is reacting to the austere masculinity and repression of humanism in minimal art. As he explains ‘In America, masculinity is generally not associated with fiber arts, craft or sewing. As a matter of fact the typical portrayal of the male who sews is often that of the outsider or criminal’ (S. Ruby, quoted in M. Johansson, ‘Making the Comfortable Uncomfortable’, Bonnierskonsthall, http://www.bonnierskonsthall.se [accessed 3 June 2014]). While the initial functions of the fabrics are eliminated through Ruby’s collages, they have become a powerful statement in his work.
Highly physical and raw, the present work bares the traces of the artist’s hand. To this effect, he has suggested, ‘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 at one point very fervent and then it just gets kind of stopped. Using so many different and multiple mediums actually allow me to transfer different aesthetics. Contextually they have different meanings, but they often wind up encompassing this kind of aura that I’m talking about. I guess, again, it can be a type of beauty’ (S. Ruby, quoted in H. Post, Utopia Parkway, Brussels 2009, unpaged). Ruby uses abstraction and common materials to tether us to our world.