Sterling Ruby – DSM-IV-TR/FEEDFACE#654321 (2009)


The huge diversity of artist Sterling Ruby (Bitburg, Germany, 1972, lives and works in Los Angeles) makes it difficult to talk about his work in general terms. His production and standards are high, as evidenced by the great frequency with which he exhibits in prestigious international museums and the five top galleries that represent him in the United States and Europe.

Ruby is best known for his paintings of graffiti on canvas, which are often metres long. Since he moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in 2003, graffiti, used by the city gangs to mark out their territory, has played an important role in his work. He employs the typical colours of the gangs, incorporates their tags into his paintings and has named works of art after famous gangs such as the Bloods and the Crips.


As well as paintings, Ruby makes collages, videos and three-dimensional works, often of very considerable dimensions. 2TRAPS (2010) consists of a converted bus, a monstrous armoured vehicle with steel gates on the door and windows, and a construction of metal cages stacked up to form a block. These constructions, which are both impressive and depressing, allude to contemporary interpretations of the concept of ‘security’: the protection of private property, public spaces and individuals, which is being extended ever further at the expense of privacy and personal freedom, also destroying any suggestion of a society in which people trust one another.


Ruby’s art is expressive, sometimes aggressive, sometimes sexual. The lavish treatment of the surface reinforces what is already a very physical experience of his work. The same applies to his amorphous works in ceramic, with brightly coloured glaze slowly dripping off them, and also to his elongated objects, often with obvious phallic symbolism, and his large geometric sculptures of Formica and plastic, which are associated with Minimalism. Superoverpass (2007) is an immense, white sculpture in the form of a gateway, which the public can walk through. It’s not until you take a good look that you see the surface is covered with graffiti and dirt. Ruby reacts against the polish, perfection and seductiveness of much Minimal Art and playfully puts the historic status of this art movement into perspective, while also making good use of its formal language.


Ruby’s work for Lustwarande ‘11, DSM-IV-TR/FEEDFACE#654321 (2009), looks like a typically minimalist work of art. The form of the aluminium sculpture is determined by the pattern of the coordinates, the perpendicular lines to which every minimalist conforms. The two-dimensional pattern has effectively been developed into a three-dimensional figure in this work. Unlike many of Ruby’s other geometric objects, DSM-IV-TR/FEEDFACE#654321 is sprayed in a uniform colour, which lends the work a less anarchic and more monumental character and is reminiscent of Richard Serra’s macho, rust-brown Corten steel sculptures. However, the work also conceals another layer of meaning, which rather spectacularly encapsulates Ruby’s radical stance as an artist. The word feedface in the title is a term referring to the psychic disorder of tending to eat to much. This interpretation should be taken fairly literally: Ruby’s work could also be stuffed – with tags, scratches and drawings. Graffiti came on pretty galore.


Manon Braat / translation Laura Watkinson