Before sitting in on Sterling Ruby’s discussion with Todd Levin, I knew relatively little of the artist. I was vaguely aware of his sculptures, assembled from unconventional materials placed within white cube spaces, but that was about all. Whilst little of this Expo discussion was actually based on the artist’s physical work, I now feel that I have a far greater framework in which to contemplate his work. This is thanks to the fact that Ruby and Levin’s conversation was so filled with personal content.
Accounts of Ruby’s interests in skateboarding, punk/metal music, as well as his time spent working on construction sites shed a whole new light on many of his sculptures that could be read as formalist. His use of plastic pipes, wood, metal sheets; all covered in spray marks with worn down edges are clearly materials from a world that is his. A world very much outside of the gallery spaces that these works are shown in. The importance of this aspect of his work is emphasized by his interest in transversality and Guattari- from what I can remember this is to do with the power of identity limitations. Ruby summed up this theory and the influence of his tutor with an anecdote of his first class: the way the artists and critics were told to be either artist or critics and not try to resemble an amalgamation of the two. Ruby in his work is clearly bringing much of his identity into his work through his choice of materials.
I also found the fact that he never received his degree an interesting topic. I rather wish he had maybe gone into it in a bit more depth, due to the fact that this again appears to be a conflict Ruby encountered with the institutional environment versus he himself as more-than-an-artist. Unsurprisingly we weren’t told much as I guess such a detail is probably more personal than an Expo talk requires, however, it was suggested that it was due to a discrepancy with his written submission- I was lead to believe that it was tied into his thesis statement. I am not sure what the requirements were, however, Ruby was clearly engaged in the course, producing a large body of work and willing to discuss his thesis topic with the tutors. Hence, what could be so ludicrous or offensive by his proposed subject of enquiry?! I have a personal interest in the way art institutions simultaneously nurture yet mould artists and think that would have been an interesting point for the discussion to expand upon.
Generally, however, I really enjoyed the talk. I feel I have a far greater knowledge of Sterling Ruby as artist than prior to it. I only wish that there had been more time for the conversation to develop into a more rigorous look at Ruby’s practice itself. It would have been great to hear the artist himself relate his life experiences to his work, as I do find myself second-guessing a tad.
10 works with colour:
“Fake Death Picture (The Death of Chatterton-Henry Wallis)” by Yinka Shonibare
This piece by Shonibare consists of a contrast between the bright, saturated, culturally significant colours of Chatterton’s clothes and the far darker, less vivid, cooler colours of his period surroundings. This contrast of colour and print sets up the cultural difference between the African and British handling of colour within design.
“Michellle, Rome,” 2011 by Alec Soth
The colours in this photo are all allied yet it is the clear difference in value between the ceiling and the rest of the photograph that makes it striking, it being a much more saturated pink. The photo of the blond woman follows second in saturation and finds itself roughly head height in relation to the spout of the tap, which is situated around the pelvis. This set up made me view the photo head to toe.
“Ice Fiord leading to Jakoabshvn Glacier #1” 2008 by Terry Evans
This photo by Evans consists of a mixture of warm and cool colours. The Glacier, predominantly shades of white is surrounded by a pool of water of varying tones of green, the relationship of these two make the water a focus. The ground in contrast is much warmer with a yellow tinge.
This series of paintings by Paul Cowan, were a piece, which attracted me from a distance. There bright, near fluorescent yellow was unavoidable to the eye. From a distance I thought the bright purple marks were indeed black, it was only when I got closer that I realized that in fact they just appeared black as the contrast was so strong between the complementary pair that they had been completely overwhelmed by the dominant yellow. The red strokes however really stood out, as their saturation was relatively much stronger than the yellow backdrops.
”The Archive Revisited: Pigs” by Philippe van Shik
This piece was a photo of pigs over-laid with a grey and a black rectangle of a similar hue to the photo itself. The grey is sandwiched between a blue and orange rectangle. The orange being brighter and more intense than the blue, a contrasting complementary, draws the eye first and then it moves onto the blue guiding the eye. The positioning of the grey rectangle means that the eye produces a modulation of greys ranging from those of blue to orange tones along its length.
“Golden Escalator, Tokyo” by Michael Eastman
This piece is an example of a piece with strong temperature difference. The ceiling/ upper part of the photo is warm with colours of deep orange to yellow. Whilst the escalators are far cooler with tones of blue and violet. This contrast gives us the feeling of ascension I believe the artist desired.
“Yellow, Yellow” by Rachel Whiteread
Whitread’s sculpture here is an example of carefully chosen allied colours. The casts of the inside of cups, boxed and cardboard tubes are all of a similar value and intensity. The yellow cup on the left is an exception, along with its different, stockier, shape it acts as a sort of initial draw and a point to relate the other shapes to.
“Resisted Array” Liam Gillick
Within Gillick’s piece we have examples of allied colours paired with a complementary colour, which adds a punch, giving the works more depth.
”Life Magazine, April 19th, 1989” by Alfredo Jaar
This piece by Jaar consists of a standard photo of a busy street at a normal value. In the other two duplications the colour of the original photo is a lot lighter but are then overlaid with much more intense black dots first, these are in place of the faces of all those in the crowd. In the second duplication only a couple of faces are marred in red dots. The cultural associations with red indicate that these figures labeled as red must be of higher importance within the context of this work.
“Coded Spectrum 2011” by Leo Villareal
This work is basically a glorification of colour theory. The light boxes colours shift through the spectrum, varying saturation, intensity, value and temperature demonstrating the beauty in varying harmonies. The fact light boxes are used gives the colour a greater intensity and therefore appeal.