A Spotlight on Talent is a new feature we are trying out this year. In partnership with my favorite Millennial, Lexie Ermi, we will be looking across generations, industries, sectors, and regions. We have a nose for talent, and we want to do our part to support and celebrate them. We hope you enjoy this edition of A Spotlight on Talent.
It was a snowy, windy morning shortly after the holidays and my new friend Michael Ross agreed to give Lexie and me a personal tour through his art exhibit, currently showing at The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street in Bethesda. Michael is an artist pursuing his Master of Fine Arts at the University of Georgia. The exhibit spans several years' worth of his work, and listening to him tell his story made for a refreshing forenoon.
Ross is open and candid about his work, pleasingly articulate in his explanation of the pieces on the wall. Water, wetlands, primal creation scenes, and landscapes figure repeatedly in his art. When examining one of his pieces, he explains his attraction to the wetlands: "It's the marketplace of biology, the borderline between two ecological zones." Birds flying high above the water in his art can demonstrate a dichotomy between elemental forces, air and water.
Two of his pieces, side by side in the gallery separated only by a picture of a bird flying above a body of water which acts as a bridge between the paintings, are titled "Adam" and "Eve." Both are figures, unclothed, emerging from the water. Reminiscent of Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, the pieces, Ross comments, speak to both an evolutionary mindset and a fundamental religious belief.
Another grouping of paintings, as featured above, "little paintings," as Ross terms them, "smaller, meditative" allows Ross to further explain another consistent theme in his work. Some pieces have a sharp, specific edge which allows them to appear defined and finished, whereas others have a more diffuse edge. These are two different ways to portray images. Leaving things unfinished, Ross says, can make a painting work even better. Everything doesn't have to be completely in focus and "finished."
His notion of unfinished work speaks to his somewhat free spirited and adventurous childhood and youth. Born in Norway, he spent his life living in different places that included Bethesda, Norway, and Finland, and he speaks Norwegian and Swedish. Through various study abroad programs and artistic programs, he managed to spend more time in different parts of Scandinavia, Iceland, Switzerland, and Africa. A degree in anthropology led him to have an interest in human cultures, particularly pre-western and even tribal cultures. This is particularly evident in the fact that none of his work showcases city scenes or many people, but rather focuses on nature, figures in nature, and the relation of man to his primordial past.
Another of his paintings, titled "The Runner," represents the figure in nature again. There is a sense of speed, focus, an emphasis on the physical act of running and the physical act of breathing in and out. "It's a story," Ross explains, "he's in the middle of a run. There was a beginning to the run, and there will be an end. Running makes you feel happy to be alive, and that's what I wanted to portray through this work." It's clear from Ross's comments and the way he pauses in front of this new work that he particularly enjoys and connects with it.
Ross's nomadic lifestyle has informed his work to a significant degree, giving him the capacity to create beautiful pictures ranging in subject matter from a harsh, bleak, wild seascape reminiscent of his time in Norway to warmly colored portraits of women with brown braids and deep eyes from his time in various parts of Africa. His art and the themes within his works speak to the experiences he has had and the things that are important to him. Even the scarf around his neck, which, he informs us after we have complimented the soft blue fabric, is actually a turban from Mali which he cut in half, demonstrates the searching, explorative spirit so evident in his work. The scarf, casually thrown about his neck yet bearing such an intriguing story, well sums up the talented artist.
Please visit Michael's collection displayed at The Writer's Center in Bethesda. Call ahead 301.654.8664 for exhibit hours. Check out more of Michael's work on his website http://www.michaelrossart.com/.