Ruby’s oeuvre is diverse, formally and thematically, and difficult to characterize. While his SP (spray painting), BC (bleach collage) or more recent WIDW (window) series include color abstractions with a composition and materiality that explores traditional and contemporary senses of beauty, they also bristle with a clear subtext of psychological unrest. The artist’s geometric solids series consists of monumental minimalist sculptures made of Formica composite that Ruby has covered with graffiti, scratchiti, smears, fingerprints and other vandalizing methods. His SCALES series comprises mobile sculptures that merge modernist forms with such unusual readymades as paint buckets and industrial steel drums. Ruby’s SOFTWORKS recall labyrinthine bundles of amorphous, stuffed fabric figures with an unsettling corporeality. Apart from their aesthetic dimension, some of Ruby’s STOVE sculptures also serve as functional wood-burning stoves. The artist’s ceramics, which he produces in a variety of series and sizes, have organic shapes and sumptuous glazes and are often reminiscent of charred animal and human remains. His large-scale, totem-like sculptures made of polyurethane resin have a similarly visceral effect, echoing the visual repertoire of horror and science fiction films. Ruby has drawn on plexiglas with nail polish, made disturbing analogue and digital photo collages, and repurposed vehicles such as an LAPD squad car and a salvaged American submarine into sculptures.
The range of media the artist uses is mirrored in an aesthetic strategy that he himself describes as “schizophrenic.” Yet for all their multifaceted character, Ruby’s works share a common denominator. His creations clearly spring from an interconnected network and often make direct reference to one another, sometimes at the level of an ingenious recycling of used materials. Common to all of his paintings and objects is a sustained resistance to the ideological limitations of minimalism and conceptual art, their “high culture” social practices and legacy, which continue to dominate the art system today. He advances the evolution of an art-historical game with the abject and the refined, the origins of which are traceable to the work of artists such as Mike Kelley, Rosemarie Trockel, and Bruce Nauman.
Sterling Ruby draws inspiration from a number of intellectual influences, including Judith Butler’s gender theory, mathematical catastrophe theory and the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. His oeuvre explores such contemporary phenomena as supermax prisons, American politics and consumption and the social treatment of mental illness. Ruby’s works resemble outgrowths of a social and psychological landscape determined by fear, repression, violence, and stigmatization—a landscape we live in, yet so often turn a blind eye to. They also create the lexicon for a language of chaos, transgression, and radical diversity—a source of simultaneous eruption and awakening.