Ruby’s larger body of work includes a wide range of formats, many with a relationship to craft traditions, both studio and amateur. In addition to ceramics, his practice incorporates fabric, found-metal sculpture, cardboard collages, and drawings on paper.
Sculptures in clay have long held a fascinating and primary position in Ruby’s broader studio work. Though he has no interest in separating himself from the history of his materials, Ruby upends tradition in his hybrid ceramic forms, which are simultaneously familiar and alien. In a process heavily indebted to craft, 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 misfires. Organic shapes reminiscent of childlike explorations round out his body of work in this medium. Akin to an Abstract Expressionist canvas, the clay provides a responsive, tactile surface as it records Ruby’s aggressive gestures. The finish on each piece is as important as its construction: whether black, yellow, blue, green, or bright red-orange, thick glazes accumulate in deep glossy pools and drip from every form. Like a reverse archaeologist, Ruby records the results of his experiments in clay within the final art object.
Clay, which Ruby calls his “monument material,” is a natural ingredient for his art. In addition to its physical properties, the medium has a long tradition across many cultures, used by artists and craftspeople to create both purely functional objects and high art. Unrestricted by theory, clay invites a free-form and spontaneous approach to art making, which has enabled Ruby to create an extraordinary body of work that is engaging, intuitive, and subversive.
Founded to support artists of the studio craft movement, of which ceramic is a core medium, the Museum of Arts and Design continues to champion artists working in craft today and the innovative ways in which they are expanding the field. Sterling Ruby exemplifies this mission through his interdisciplinary approach to traditional craft materials. Unconcerned with preciousness, Ruby’s ceramics celebrate the technical challenges of the medium, expanding its limits while conveying their dissolution altogether.
Sterling Ruby: Ceramics is curated by Jeff Fleming, Director of the Des Moines Art Center. It was organized for the Museum of Arts and Design by William and Mildred Lasdon Chief Curator Shannon R. Stratton with support from Assistant Manager of Curatorial Affairs Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy.
The exhibition is on view at the Des Moines Art Center June 9–September 9, 2018. The Museum of Arts and Design is its second venue. The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color catalogue.