Los Angeles-based artist Sterling Ruby’s interdisciplinary practice channels the conflicts between individual impulses and mechanisms of social control, American domination and decline, an engagement with irrationality and dysfunctional psychology, and its end result in upheaval. Ruby’s works act as formally charged markers and allegories for the burdens that plague contemporary existence. Entitled ‘EXHM’, the artist’s abbreviation for ‘exhumation’, Ruby’s debut exhibition with Hauser & Wirth presents an installation of new ceramics, collages, fabric and urethane sculptures.
The works in ‘EXHM’ are acts of autobiographical, art historical and social archaeology. Ruby has turned inward, treating his studio as an excavation site where discarded, buried and collected artworks and materials are dug up and reanimated. These new series highlight Ruby’s continued subversion of both material and content. They reveal a therapeutic process that embodies a site between creative utility and futility through the recycling of studio ephemera and misfired ceramic works.
In his recent ceramics, collectively titled ‘Basin Theology’, Ruby fills vessel-like forms with fractured pieces of his discarded ceramic work. The reuse of broken remnants becomes symbolic of an unburdening, a redemption of past mishaps and failures. The ceramic fragments, often resembling animal remains or pottery shards, are melded together through a process of repeated glazing and firing. The more times they are fired, the thicker and more vivid their glaze becomes, and the more charred and gouged the surfaces appear.
‘CDCR’, a large, poured urethane sculpture in the colours of red, white and blue reconfigures the artist’s ‘MONUMENT STALAGMITE’ sculptures. ‘THE POT IS HOT’, with its mortar and pestle-like form, is reminiscent of the artist’s earlier ceramic works.
When making poured urethane sculptures like ‘CDCR’, Ruby lays down pieces of cardboard to protect the studio floor. His EXHM collages take these cardboard pieces covered in urethane, dirt and footprints and reinvent them as formal compositions, which Ruby finalises by inserting pictures of burial grounds, correctional facilities, prescription packages and other objects found around the studio.
Ruby’s fabric collages, the BC series, repurpose rags, fabric scraps, and clothing that are then applied to a ground of bleached black denim. The fabric echoes the playful patterns of traditional quilts, specifically the quilts of Gee’s Bend, and the pop-like works of Rauschenberg or the formal compositions of Malevich. Both Ruby’s BC and EXHM series inhabit an interstitial space between painting and craft; industry and waste.
Ruby’s soft sculptural works will hang from the ceiling of the North Gallery, falling down into a pile on the floor. In the South Gallery, Ruby’s gaping vampire mouths line the walls; single pillowy droplets of blood cling to each fanged tooth. Ruby’s soft works take objects of comfort, such as blankets and quilts, and mould them into threatening forms, which are at once aggressive and playfully cartoonish.