New York

Ross Neher

David Beitzel Gallery

Ross Neher’s oil paintings are situated between abstraction and landscape. In the paintings, he explores this realm through a process that involves laying down a skin of color and then scraping it away, repeating the process several times until shapes and a palpable sense of light begin to emerge. Through this accumulative process, each eventually acquires a range of subtle effects, including abrupt shifts, the interplay between shape and atmosphere, and the suggestion of forms emerging from and sinking back into the paint. The way the light rises to the surface of these carefully built up paintings bears affinities with both Giorgio de Chirico’s early paintings, especially the odd green light of their receding skies, and Brice Marden’s multipaneled paintings.

Neher’s interest in landscape has its origins in the artist’s childhood. Growing up in a town near the Catskill Mountains, he became familiar with the works of the Hudson River School painters and studied with various artists in Woodstock, New York, who had worked on the WPA project during the ’30s. His imaginative, highly considered response to the 19th-century American landscape tradition, particularly those artists who were obsessed with the presence of light as an indication of a sublime drama, arises out of his memories of the landscape in which Frederick Church and Thomas Cole also lived and worked.

In Love Me Tender, 1986, the artist divides the composition horizontally, with the wider, upper band readable as sky and the narrower, lower band as water. The gray-blue color in both areas undergoes a shift in tonality, growing lighter as it approaches the horizon line. The large, mostly yellow form in the foreground glows, as if the minerals it contains were lit from within. Although this painting suggests a landscape, the compositional interplay of light conforms to internal rules rather than natural ones. Love Me Tender is an inward-looking moment of extreme stillness and isolation, of something alone in a vast landscape. Clearly, Neher believes that paint can be transformed into a metaphorical presence.

Neher’s ambition is to evolve a language that is specifically his own. At a time when a sense of style has supplanted a show of feeling in the work of so many artists, he is unafraid of making work that is shamelessly romantic and openly vulnerable. In this regard, Neher can be seen as sharing the same courage that one finds in Bradley Walker Tomlin, Mark Rothko, and, more recently, Marden. What these artists have in common is the strength to allow the paint itself to take over.

John Yau