Los Angeles

Adam Ross

Angles Gallery

Adam Ross is an artist devoted to exploring the broad range of possibilities in abstract painting. Having come of age aesthetically amid the clashing art-historical narratives of the 1980s—which either tracked painting’s so-called endgame, generating a pronounced interest in the semiotics of abstraction, or, to the contrary, trumpeted the resurgence of representation as the rebirth of the medium—he has made a practice of reconciling tendencies.

In the ’90s, Ross produced not quite thoroughly abstract paintings characterized by heavily worked surfaces and saturated yet diffuse pockets of color. These Rorschach blot–like patches tempt audiences to tease out likenesses as they might from passing clouds. At the end of that decade and into the new millennium, Ross began to produce quasi-architectural forms, fusing diagrammatic abstraction to futuristic or retro-futurist sci-fi. The results are bleak yet exotic cityscapes that rest somewhere between abstracted representations and visions of surreal unpeopled worlds. The prevailing aesthetic is reminiscent of Yves Tanguy’s paintings or Arnaldo Pomodoro’s geometric sculptural tableaux. At times, the architecture seems to float untethered through space.

In the past few years, Ross has fused his surrealist quasi-representation with the more abstract and surface-oriented tendencies of the earlier work. Ultimately, nothing is explicitly pictured; rather, the new works suggest a fracturing and disassemblage of space—cacophonous and tumultuous—not by picturing actual or imagined spaces so much as by creating a kind of abstract visual equivalent. His latest series, for example, “Walking on Water,” 2008–2009, seems calming at first, its canvases dominated by mottled swaths of turquoise, cerulean, or azure that sometimes drift into periwinkle or mauve. Maintaining an emphasis on surface, these works seem to defend the old turf of the picture plane. But the fields of color drop away, receding behind irregular latticeworks of bars, shaded to appear three-dimensional, and snaking gestural marks. The result is the kind of abstraction-as-window painting that prompted Leo Steinberg to “bundle” Franz Kline with Watteau and Giotto, as yet another artist who uses “paint and surface to suggest existences other than surface and paint.” Less Brice Marden–esque abstractions of loopy lines on fields, Ross’s work suggests polluted skies seen through tangled wires, crumpled rebar, or the calculatedly irregular, faux-old-world leaded glass windows one finds in Los Angeles’s prewar domestic architecture.

The works in “Walking on Water” are also highly suggestive of aerial views of infrastructure—roads, jetties, levies, tracks, and canals—particularly those that extend into ocean, as in the port of LA. Walking on Water I, 2009, for instance, suggests a helicopter view of a floodplain divided by intersecting pipelines and a raised earthen berm. The work thus speaks to audiences wise and wary of the history of discourse surrounding the boundaries and potentials of abstraction, but also responds to our changing view of land and landscape via new technology. While aspiring elegantly, humorously, and somewhat tragically toward the transcendence of a Rothko and the exuberance of Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, Ross’s paintings are clearly of our own GPS-guided, Google Earth–oriented, post-Katrina world.

Christopher Miles