Why Ask Why? Waiting Patiently with Marc Ross;

  Art Access Gallery Exhibit from the Starr Review

There it is, above, as big as I can present it: Marc Ross’s Fiscal Heart, recently shown among a large body of his paintings and drawings at the Art Access Gallery in Bexley, Ohio.

To tell the truth, it’s only the pressure of my admiration for Ross’s works that forces me to break silence and find words for it. His art is so far beyond the verbal that it tests all the ways I know of communicating about it. This photograph seems simply silly to anyone who has looked into the depth, saturated ripeness, and calm discipline of this painting.

Smack a snapshot of the night sky on your ceiling and say, “There’s the firmament.” It’s rather the same thing as trying to represent these works. Your body responds dumbly: You wish to move forward and into the event, to merge, or to respond in kind. With Ross’s work, you want somehow to make a statement of equal measure from whatever materials could compel your mind as profoundly as paint, pencil, and watercolor do his.

Ross’s paintings stop me in my tracks for the reason that they exert equal impulses to come closer and to move farther away. Every angle is the right one to view these. Every spot reveals yet another aspect of their uncanny force.

Stand across the room and you’ll see in all of them that the center is luminous in comparison to a denser, darker surround of color. But in none of Ross’s works do the dark, framing edges guide the eye, as a simple drama, into the “heart” of the image.

In fact, from a distance, the relationship between lighter center and denser border pulses slowly in and out. The light sometimes seems to emerge, then the darkness appears to close in.

The view from very close range is similarly surprising.The countless layers of colors and transparent mediums laid down, sanded away, revised and removed again achieve the illusion of a profound depth that the viewer could swoon and fall into. Yet lying on top are well-defined ribbed lines of color—like girders on a skyscraper construction, high above the abyss. These forms are material, palpable, and detailed. From these shapes—as from the central criss-crossing of lines, we know that there is purpose here—enough to give us the confidence to find or to make meaning.

I briefly met Ross at the Art Access opening, and we did indeed speak of great painters whose work is similarly difficult to represent because of the depth of its layering (like his) the subtlety of mark (like his) and the enormity of time’s defining presence that inheres in the physical work—but never in its reproduction. Jules Olitski, Mark Rothko, Agnes Martin.

Ross’s work imitates none of theirs, though.

Work like isn’t possible unless it comes directly from an individual’s own mind-body collaboration. Making work so deep and, contemplative, and large, is laborious. Covering the surface evenly time after time; once committed to an action, repeating it for hours across an enormous surface: these require steadiness few can muster. Reversing a decision can be the work of days—if one can find the courage to make such a decision. Such labor consumes whole (not fractional) months, days, hours, minutes and seconds of—call it what you will: commitment, trance, physical labor, dedicated idleness… to stay, continue, and to realize the impulse that creates the painting and must run its course.

The metaphor of child labor is nearly always a good one for art-making. In Ross’s case, it is exceptionally apt because it highlights the aspect so many women know of having to wait, struggle, and bear the tension simultaneously with a process that will not be rushed, explained, or ever rationally understood. When it’s over, there’s a phenomenal, forever mysterious outcome.

The kind of creativity that produces work like Ross’s may remind us of others who have worked in such a vein, the Rothko’s and Martin’s. But, as anyone who has labored will agree, a long process requiring so much work and trust is by definition always unique. Viewers who spend more than glancing time with the art instantly perceive the pure DNA.

As in the drawing, left, “Train of No Image #5,” Ross’s works have histories of discipline that are both on the surface and far below it. Grids with lines of varying densities, colors, and patterns occupy the centers of the paintings, and cover the entire surfaces of his print-like drawings. Using watercolors in several forms, colored pencils, graphite, the occasional paste, and various means of subtraction, he produces these mesmerizing images which, like the paintings, cycle through relationships of space, color, light and dark, presence and absence. Even one’s perception of the materials used, however searchingly one observes, never settle on what only the artist can confirm.

I could write for pages and still feel that I’ve said nothing of any real significance about this artist and his work. Ultimately, Ross’s work has to do with trust and patience; with reliance on the positive core of indecision and the way it makes you refuse haste. The more time you spend with any of this work, the more time you want with it. It gently pulls you into a place of contemplation or imagination. I find myself going back and being where I am, making up my lovely, saturated present from my buried and boxed past.

You have to see it to believe it.

–Ann Starr, Art Critic

Marc Ross Art