Sterling Ruby puts his workwear on show
A new Sprüth Magers exhibition in London shows how the artist extends his practice right into his wardrobe
Collectors coming to the opening of the new Sterling Ruby exhibition at Sprüth Magers in London tonight might want to bring, along with their chequebooks and Amex Cards, one other item to size up the works: a tape measure.
Because Ruby’s new exhibition, Work Wear: Garment and Textile archive 2008 – 2016 displays the garments the artist has been making for himself over the past eight years. While the works on show go back less than a decade, Ruby’s tailoring actually predates his earliest fine art. His mother, an amateur seamstress, gave him a sewing machine when he was 12-years-old, and the fledgling artist began creating scrappy, punky clothing for himself while in his early teens.
Indeed, his clothes-making appears to have informed his art, which regularly features denim, fleece and stuffed fabric sculptures in a kind of abject take on the arts and craft movement. Bleached jeans, quilts and stars-and-stripes-themed vampires’ smiles meet glistening urethane sculptures, rather wretched bits of pottery and high-security prison grills.
In 2014, the artist created a commercially available clothing line with the Belgian collector and fashion designer Raf Simons, albeit one with distinct personal touches; Ruby even going to such lengths as dyeing certain pieces in the collection himself.
The clothes in Sprüth Magers’ exhibition, are, of course, far more personalised. The earliest garments on show, a shirt and a pair of jeans, were fashioned from offcuts left over from some soft sculptures. Regarding the outfit as a kind of “studio camouflage” Ruby repeated the practice with subsequent projects.
“Each time a piece of artwork is finished, a new set of unique one-off garments are made, as a conclusion to the project” his gallery explains. “As a result, the garments are imbued with the precise treatments as the artworks — from the fabrics that are hand-dyed and hand-treated in Ruby’s studio yard, to the exotic enzyme washes researched and sourced from LA’s rich garment production industry.”
Ruby grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and says the quilting traditions of the local Amish communities influenced his work. However, the pieces apparently also pay homage to Bauhaus tailors and seamstresses, as well as punkier forebears such as Malcom McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, who bleached and stitched their early Sex and Seditionaries collections at home on their kitchen table.
Of course, Ruby’s clothes, like those early punk items, are likely to command the kind of prices that will prevent all but the most foolhardy collectors from actually wearing the garments themselves. Yet the works do demonstrate how, in the case of this artist, clothes maketh the man.
For more go here, for greater insight into Sterling Ruby consider our contemporary painting overview book P2; for more on clothes and their role in society, from military uniforms to underwear get The Anatomy of Fashion.