In her first solo exhibition at Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Michelle Ross presents a new group of paintings that further her exploration into reductive abstraction. They represent a logical trajectory from her previous, deeply formal work of interlocking geometric shapes that hover on planes of more expressive brushwork. The new paintings, on the other hand, are at once more minimal and more richly executed. Her palette is more muted and the paintings are less populated by geometric shapes, but the surfaces—typically, oil on wood panels—are far more matted and layered, creating a satisfying sense of texture.
This shift in the terrain of Ross' pictorial space can be attributed to a very literal shift in her own surroundings. Ross, who teaches drawing and painting at the Oregon College of Art and Craft, was recently awarded a visiting artist residency at the American Academy in Rome. Clearly, the collision of classical and contemporary architecture as well as the sun-bleached colors she found in Rome left their mark.
Ross' interest in architecture is most apparent in a series of small studies on linen canvases. There, she renders familiar forms—towers, a domed stadium—in meager terms: skeletal lines, stacked rectangles, and other basic geometric forms. When she inserts these figures into the larger works that dominate the show, they lead the viewer to interpret the paintings as representational landscapes rather than mere exercises in abstraction. In the paintings "Outpost I" and "Outpost II," for example, Ross places a horizontal grouping of shapes along the bottom of each work, depicting an outline of buildings. Imbedded squares and rectangles conjure windows and doorways, while protruding rectangles suggest chimneys and spires. These two wood panels are ultimately dominated by textured, expressive painting, but the placement of these architectural shapes imposes an unmistakable reading upon them. The shapes imply a horizon line, so that above them, the matted brushwork becomes a sprawling expanse of sky. In "Outpost II," this is reinforced with a web of connected points that call to mind a constellation, while the thickly applied paint in "Outpost I" suggests clouds. Elsewhere, Ross' paintings are less representational, but this calculated use of space remains the greatest strength in her new body of work, constructing identifiable landscapes from the most fundamental forms.