We round up everything you need to know about the famed American artist.
For those who aren’t au fait with the art world, Sterling Ruby’s name may still ring a bell. The multidisciplinary artist has teamed up with friend Raf Simons on a number of occasions including for Simons’ much-hyped debut couture collection for Dior.
But Ruby is a name to remember in his own right. In fact, the term ‘multidisciplinary’ is a bit of an insult. How do you describe someone who paints, sculpts, designs, films and photographs in an attempt to comment on society’s many pressures? A quintuple threat? Combining elements including collage, graffiti tagging and the view from his Los Angeles home, Ruby’s work is strong and powerful yet blurs the line between masculine and feminine. Yes, his archive features an array of phallic sculptures and videos of men masturbating but sunset strokes and soft fabrics have their own place too.
Each time a new project is complete, Ruby designs a makeshift collection of workwear garments. Bleached denim and splattered canvas jackets echo the patchwork feel of his art and cement his status in the fashion industry. A new exhibition at London’s Sprüth Magers gallery looks at eight years of these designs straight from Ruby’s personal stock. In homage to WORK WEAR: Garment and Textile Archive 2008-2016, we’ve laid out the seven works you need to know by the manic master that is Sterling Ruby.
Raf Simons x Sterling Ruby AW14
We should probably start with one of Sterling Ruby’s biggest Raf Simons collaborations. Over a decade ago, Simons became infatuated with Ruby’s work, starting a neat little collection. Since then, the pair have embarked on a close friendship with Ruby designing the interior of Simons’ Tokyo store in 2008, lending a hand to a capsule denim collection in 2009 and posing as one half of an entirely new (albeit one-off) brand in 2014. The Raf Simons x Sterling Ruby collection saw the duo frenziedly stick a smorgasbord of acid-hued shapes, patches and text onto oversized coats and knitwear. An ode to Ruby’s typical defacing manner, the designs are still sought after on resale sites today.
Defining masculinity is no easy task. What was once a straightforward answer of brains, brawn and bravado is today met with mentions of emotion, anxiety and simply not feeling ‘manly’. In his 2010 video installation, The Masturbators, Ruby zoned in on one of man’s biggest fear: virility. Nine films of male porn stars failing to ejaculate were broadcast onto the walls of a New York gallery in a powerful statement on gender and shame in contemporary society.
“You are in SUPERMAX for a crime committed on the inside,” read Ruby’s 2008 exhibition catalogue. The belly of SUPERMAX, a reference to America’s highest security prisons, was a claustrophobic space filled with huge spray-painted canvases, tarnished monoliths and phallic stalagmites dripping with what seemed to be blood, sweat and tears. A colossal block (entitled Big Grid/DACSKKKK) was etched with gang tears. A notable collage, CDC AT PDC STUDY, featured aerial shots of a prison overlaid with blood splatters and bold text screaming: “THE ABSOLUTE VIOLATION COMES FROM INSTITUTIONAL MINIMALISM.” According to Ruby, the scenario was “the closest thing [he] could imagine to hell.”
Male-to-female transgender people received the Sterling Ruby treatment in a series of photo collages. Using shiny gold foil as a backdrop, a small picture of the person in their new identity was met with splatterings of blood red nail varnish. Equally violent and child-like in design, each collage’s title took inspiration from its subject’s outfit; Black Satin Bra and Crimped Red Hair, Cream Satin Dress being just two striking works in this lesser-known gender-examining series
Dior Couture AW12
Where Raf Simons goes, Sterling Ruby soon follows. So it was only right that Simons started his tenure at Dior with four of Ruby’s abstract paintings (and an award-winning documentary). Transforming the graffiti-inspired works into almost hallucinogenic designs, Simons appeared to finally be at ease with his first couture collection for the house. As for Ruby, he’s racked up hundreds of these spray paintings which fuse the colours of the LA sunset with the layering effect perfected by gang taggers worldwide.
A blackened seemingly burnt-out bus stands next to a monumental cage made of rows and rows of pig pens. This was the premise for Ruby’s 2010 exhibition, 2TRAPS, which saw people confront incarceration head on. Building on Ruby’s preoccupation with ‘supermax’ prisons, the sculptures’ solitary confinement cells played into our fears of isolation. Giant subwoofers filled the bus, giving the feeling that being locked in would result in an endless torture of god-awful sounds. Overall, not one for the idealists out there.
Politics, femininity and liberalism were all touched on in Ruby’s Soft Work show. Leaving aside his usual brutal structures, Ruby opted to transform fabric into cushiony sculptures. Vampire mouths constructed from old American flags hung from the walls while human-shaped ‘husband’ pillows lined the floor. When asked what the exhibition was really about, Ruby touched on The Silence of the Lambs’ sewing-obsessed serial killer Buffalo Bill. It may seem like an obscure reference yet he had a point. Sewing and craftwork are relegated to domesticity (and therefore females) while any man that picks up a needle and thread is branded strange. Ruby wanted to change that; a task that is unfortunately still ongoing.