Sterling Ruby: Ceramics at the Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa.
On view June 9 through September 9, 2018.
Sterling Ruby’s areas of interest are numerous, and his artistic output is prodigious. Projects in fabric, including clothing, cast iron stoves, savaged submarines, prison buses, cardboard collages, and intimate drawings fill his studio. But sculptures in clay have long played a fascinating and primary position in his broader studio work. Although Ruby upends tradition in his hybrid clay forms, he is not interested in separating himself from the history of his materials. Ruby is heavily indebted to craft, creating objects that are simultaneously familiar and alien. For Ruby, process and materiality are paramount. Ruby’s ceramic output contains objects that could appear to be in entropy or the result of violent actions, but they are much more. His objects also possess great beauty and depth. Ruby’s totems, for example, are evidence of poetry and wonderment. With a nod to Cy Twombly’s white sculptures, these tall, slender forms are ethereal and mesmerizing. Even his grave and tombstone-like constructions possess painterly qualities that transcend these references. He rolls, punches, assembles, fingers, and manipulates clay by hand and machine to arrive at basins or vessel-like containers that often hold the debris of previous kiln misfirings. His soldiers, with their mushrooms caps, are humorous and joyful, full of childlike play. Organic shapes that resemble child-like explorations complete Ruby’s body of work in this medium.
The finish on each clay piece is equally as important as its construction. Akin to Abstract Expressionist canvases, the clay provides a responsive, tactile surface as it records Ruby’s aggressive gestures. Whether black, yellow, blue, green, or bright red-orange, thick glazes puddle in deep glossy pools and drip from every form. Like a reverse archeologist, Ruby records the results of his experiments in the clay medium within the final art object itself.
Clay is a natural ingredient for Ruby’s approach to artmaking. It functions well for what he calls his “monument material.” In addition to its physical properties, the medium has a very long tradition across many cultures. Artists and craftsmen have transformed it into the purely functional and the vernacular, or high art simultaneously. It can be unrestricted by theory and also freeform and spontaneous. These characteristics are extremely seductive for Ruby, and using these attributes has enabled him to create an extraordinary body of work that is engaging, intuitive, and subversive. Through his forms, which rest on pedestals further emphasizing their status as “monuments,” Ruby attempts to upend any assumptions of the role and purpose of art.
Des Moines Art Center | T. +1 515 277 4405
1330 Grand Avenue | Des Moines, IA 50309 | USA
Website: Des Moines Art Center | Sterling Ruby