The martyrdom began with ancient Roman persecution, and ended with 20th-century Roger Caillois philosophy. When Sterling Ruby in 2006 launched his short film Dihedral, a soundtrack announcing Caillois’s 1935 essay “Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia” could be heard as colored liquids submerged into a slow, browning blend; critic Michael Ned Holte in Artforum then particularly pointed to the phrase “Space seems to be a devouring force” narrated, a subliminal ideology which applies to The Martyr. Because while Andrea Mantegna’s Louvre Sebastianequated the saint’s holy suffering with a monumental Corinthian column, Raphael’s George and the Dragon embedded steadfastness into religious armour before a harmful beast, and Freda Kahlo’s Wounded Deer succumbed a self-reflexive, corporeal savior to the treacheries of nature, Ruby here transgresses the bounded church of history. Urethane, foam, paint, and fabric molded into a life-sized, humanoid abstraction camouflage and assimilate Renaissance or modernist conceptions of sacrifice, through a surface crackling as if lit by fire, resting stiff as if shielding a body on the precipice of precarious belief. But Ruby’s allegory is ever far, ever opened up from the funerary. Its material flame breathes living gravity into Cailloisian mimesis; distinction from reality is thenceforth key; Ruby converges and transfers meaning so incandescently, that this metamorphosis extends to the imaginary.
Sterling Ruby is a Contemporary American artist working within a multidisciplinary practice, and often pulling inspiration from a wide range of socio-economic topics such as patriotism and prison systems, in order to create politically charged and graphically compelling works. Born in 1972 on an American Air Force Base in Bitburg, Germany, Ruby worked in construction, obtaining material skills that would later inform his visual practice, before entering art school, and graduating from the Art Institute of Chicago in 2002. He later attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where he worked as Mike Kelley’s teaching assistant and took classes from Semiotext(e) founder and theorist Sylvère Lotringer. In 2008, art critic Roberta Smith touted him as the most interesting artist of the 21st Century, due to his examinations of the psychological space where individual expression confronts social constraints. Ruby’s pieces are found in prestigious collections including those of the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, the Tate in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, among others.