Marc Ross and “The Distance Between”
From Faces of Memory Catalog:

B’nai B’rith Klitznick National Jewish Museum of Washington, DC

Many features connect Marc Ross’s work that of Shiela Kriemelman, besides the subject matter and the startling, disturbing effect of style on the viewer. His interest in the (universal, emotional qualities that are not bound by race, religion or nationality- qualities that exhibit the self’s power to battle humankind’s inhumanity against itself” is one obvious one. His starting point with documentary photographs of Holocaust victims is another. But where Kriemelman’s technique is acrylic and/or drawing, and remains starkly figurative, Ross brings a long interest in non-figurative painting and other media to bear on his images.

His larger-than-life, emaciated figures framed by lush, even sometimes lurid back- grounds. There is an irony to the chromaticist style of most of them. The Chromaticist Abstract Expressionist school of post-World War II, dominated by Jewish painters (Rothko, Gottlieb, Newman, Reinhardt, to name the most obvious) had in mind, in part, to restore order to the chaotic universe on the microcosm of their canvasses. Indeed, the reunification effected in those heroically large, unframed works was a kind of secular tikkun olam The effect in Ross’s hands is to emphasize the distance between that reparation of the universe and the world of Holocaust victims: it is precisely because of the numbing visual context enacted by these seam- less grounds that the horror, isolated, is more profound than ever.
In one canvas-Number 2-light seems to pour down in gentle, almost sun-ray-like angles from the upper reaches of the image. It is as if the heavens are spilling their carefully ordered light past a horizon line onto the lone figure below, also aglow-but with the glaze of pre-death vision. The distance between him and ourselves is this, at least: that we see the effects of light as part of the ordered plan of the artist, while he mistakes them, in his last, quiet agony, for some certain Divine sign of being there.

Sometimes-as in Number 5-the emaciated figure is perfectly framed. There is further irony in this: the painting which contains the victim is, as a work of art, by definition a symptom of the creative heights to which humanity is capable of soaring. But the centerpiece of the work, the victim, is himself a work of art whose creators- Hitler and Hoess and Eichmann and the other variously demonic and bureaucratic devisers of ever more effective methods of shaping death and its torturous concomitants-turned human capability upside down. They are the
Leonardos, the Raphaels, the Michelangelos of artistic horror. Is it accidental that Ross configures the work as a triptych? Does it not, then, reflect both on the Medieval and Renaissance significance of the triptych form, as a visual expression of God’s Christian-conceived triune form, and on that God Himself-and the question of His absence or presence during the Hitlerian creative process? The victim at the center of Ross’ work occupies the place taken by Christ (God’s presence among us) in traditional triptychs: but the Christian Saviour of humankind has become a sufferer for whom there is no apparent redemption. More of Ross’ figures, rather than being centered, can barely maintain their position on his canvas. They slip to the side; they slip down.

Only parts of them are visible. The distance between them and us is underscored by our inability to see more than the parts of them that they-that he-shows to us. We find ourselves unhappy accomplices, of sorts, of the perpetrators of torture: for the murderers, none of these victims was more than a cypher-a tattoo on the arm and part of the fulfillment of a quota of required exterminations. We, who would know more, know so little more about them than their killers did.

And yet: if in spite of the distance and the discomfort, we are willing to keep looking, to search the faces, however difficult to look at, for a sense of their hidden human spirit still breathing-if we can look deeply enough beneath the surfaces of pigment and pale flesh to find the thread that connects them to our- selves-then we can restore them to their rightful place as parents and siblings and children, with families and friends and pets and hobbies. If we can accomplish that form of tikkun-of reparation-then together we will have defeated Hitler and all of those who par- take of his destructive inspiration. And Marc Ross’ vibrant effort, to close the distance between by showing it to us, will have succeeded in the battle of the self against humankind’s inhumanity against itself. The paradoxically healing power of his work envelops us, for which we must find ourselves grateful.

–Ori Z. Soltes, Director/Curator

Marc Ross Art