LOS ANGELES ARTIST STERLING RUBY FIRST EXHIBITED HIS MONUMENTAL URETHANE SCULPTURES AS PART OF MOCA FOCUS: STERLING RUBY, SUPERMAX 2008, AN ENERGETIC SHOW OF PAINTING, COLLAGE, AND SCULPTURE. MOCA VISITS THE ARTIST FOR AN EXCLUSIVE LOOK AT HIS ARTISTIC PROCESS.
Born in 1972, on Bitburg Air Base, Germany, and raised in rural Pennsylvania, Sterling Ruby moved to Los Angeles to attend Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. The highly prolific artist has maintained studios in the industrial outskirts of Los Angeles since 2003. Plunging into the damp basements and tagged streets of contemporary America, Ruby transforms iconographies of industriousness and virtuous craft into masochistic lamentations. Ruby vilifies the artistic gesture as a conditioned response, bound to a history that is, to him, at its best a crutch and at its worst a stifling prison.
For the first time, film crews visit Ruby in his Vernon, California studio complex as he works with a team of assistants to create his famed urethane works. Ruby brings the camera inside the process, offering intimate views of the mixture of chemicals, application of urethane, and the heavy machinery used to invert and transport his works. Where once was the ecstatic solo dance of Jackson Pollock is now the clandestine construction in the studio with Sterling Ruby as its fastidious foreman. The comparison to a laboratory—be it scientific or street drug—is altogether welcome.
Featured in the video is Monument Stalagmite/Juvenile (2013). Standing over fifteen feet tall and shimmering with a high-viscosity finish, it is the latest in the series of the artist’s stalagmite sculptures that were so prominent in his exhibition SUPERMAX 2008 at MOCA. Like drips of water inside a cave, these stalagmite sculptures are material depictions of a process that has been frozen or truncated. An anti-minimalist monument, the sculpture is a continued protest against the repression of a rigid aesthetic system.
In the years before SUPERMAX 2008 Ruby had been working on a body of ceramic objects that mined the latent violence of the kiln. Out of frustration with the scale he turned to urethane, an unforgiving material more commonly used for casting. Ruby enlisted assistants and transformed his practice into an operation bordering on the bureaucratic systems which continue to fascinate the artist. With The Cup (2013) Ruby returns to the domestic form, recasting the vessel as an illicit tool caught in the intermediary position of the pour.
As a document of the artist in the studio Sterling Ruby: Urethane Works is itself a truncated gesture. It is the only documentation of a chapter in his production that will soon come to a close. The make up of the artist demands change.