Born on a US military base in Germany and raised in the farming town of New Freedom, Pennsylvania, Sterling Ruby was a rebellious boy and a confused teenager who spent much of his spare time drawing. After finishing school, he followed his father into construction, with few thoughts of art on his mind.
Speaking to us from his studio in Los Angeles, Ruby, 49, is now hailed as one of the most distinguished American artists of his generation.
Using a variety of mediums – ceramics, painting, drawing, sculpture, video, textiles – he has already created a significant oeuvre that has been described by critics with epithets such as violent, unrefined, humorous and a lot more, but always as interesting and original. His work, which explores the boundaries between art and craft, “serious” art and experimentation, can be found in important collections all over the world, including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, MoMA in New York and Tate Modern in London.
Athenians and visitors to the Greek capital now have the opportunity to see the breadth of Ruby’s work in two different shows.
Running until June 21, the first, at the Museum of Cycladic Art, is an installation where the American artist juxtaposes some of his famous ceramic sculptures against a selection of artifacts from the permanent collection. “That My Nails Can Reach Unto Thine Eyes,” at the Gagosian Gallery through the end of July, presents new paintings, as well as ceramics.
“I started doing ceramics about 20 years; it was something like art therapy,” Ruby admits in a conversation organized thanks to Aphrodite Gonou, the Cycladic’s contemporary art adviser.
“Clay is a material that inspires me exactly because I can control it,” adds the artist, who often incorporates pieces of previous failed experiments and recycled materials into his work, underscoring the notion of archaeological excavation. He treats the kiln, meanwhile, as a space of ritualistic transformation, where the forces of nature conspire with the hand of the artist. At the Athenian museum, his signature pieces are paired with characteristic examples of figurines, pottery, implements and weapons from all the different phases of the Cycladic civilization.
The pieces on show at the Gagosian, meanwhile, were created during the pandemic. “They’re like windows, like a connection between the world inside and the space outside,” he says of the show, whose title is inspired by Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Museum of Cycladic Art, 4 Neofytou Douka, Kolonaki, tel 210.722.8321-3, www.cyladic.gr; Gagosian Gallery, 22 Anapiron Polemou, Kolonaki, tel 210.364.0215, www.gagosian.com