Whitehot Magazine

REVIEW: Matthew Adam Ross ”I EXIST”

Appendage Leak Enamel, 2019 oil, rock, gas pipe, string, steel on wood (48 x 60) 

Matthew Adam Ross
James Wright Gallery, Los Angeles
March 16th - April 19th 


Looking at art is always a different experience. Sometimes it has an immediate punch but the meaning floats away. Sometimes it demands the devotion of spending ages with it before it gives one anything at all. Sometimes the wall is more intersting than the work (and sometimes the wall is the work). “I EXIST,” an exhibition of Matthew Adam Ross’ mixed media paintings and sculptures held at James Wright Gallery March 16 - April 19th, is like an autopsy. The viewer is presented with a body who's parts have been through multiple cycles of reanimation. Ross, somewhat of a proverbial Dr. Frankenstein, has formed a creature, a show owning a strong sense of autonomy, affixed with an Alberto Burri brain, an Eva Hesse heart, and a Lewis Baltz spine. The materials used in these works are namely urban. The brass, wood, concrete, etc make it  a modest, DTLA curiosity; the aesthetics nearly camouflaging  with its urban surroundings. 

We can see the impossibly Italian condition of organizing garbage and street detritus into beautiful finesse, or the Burri-brain, when examining a variety of works. But what these traits embody is beyond topical appearances and have further to do with themes of conflict,  or more specifically, the acceptance of all the painfully conflicting yet dependent conditions which make being human so… special. Fractured (white marble on brass, 36.5 x 24.25”, 2018-19) and Preserved (concrete on brass, 28 x 12”, 2019), when considered as a pair, seem to say that shattering something apart and acquiring desperate pieces together are damn near the same thing. There are aesthetic theories going back hundreds of years that indicate pain and imperfection are what constitute an entities beauty. Here, crumbled marble and concrete are preserved with grace and delicacy on a pane of brass. What these works say is that the the path of nonviolence is the one of non-participation. To exist is to feel and cause pain; the meaning and beauty of it all contingent on that there is none to be had. And it’s wonderful.

Julian, oil, concrete, brass on wood (22 x 45) 2019

And then there’s the heart. Possibly the most humorous as well as internal, both indicated by the color pink, Julian (oil, concrete, brass on wood, 60x45”, 2019), acts as a sort of lynchpin. In the context of the rest of the show, this painting reminds one that there is no survival without humor and tenderness. It bathes the viewer in reflected tickled-pink pink light the way only oil paint can — literally warming the skin tone of all who behold it. The brass strip acts like a playful Hesse-doodle; an artery circulating life force into the space at large.

AA Part I, Concrete, brass, aluminum, steel

Though many artists, periods, and ideas may be inferred when thinking about this exhibition, it is through yet another reference that points to the uniqueness and specificity of this work which holds it all together. Being in time for Matthew Adam Ross has meant growing up in Orange County, CA, then living in New York, and now Los Angeles. I think everyone in this artist’s generation who grew up in OC has some Lewis Baltz in their spinal fluid. It is a period in which most of the county began as orange groves and quickly evolved into this quiet suburban mixture of beige track homes, beach culture, corporate parks, and churches. Looking at AA Part I (concrete, brass, aluminum, steel on wood, 29x40.5”, 2018-19), like a Baltz photograph, the words we could use to formally describe it don’t go terribly far: industrial materials composed within a picture. It is the resonance felt which makes these works what they are. The viewer can feel the artists nervous system in the scratched marks and words etched in the concrete. Gold Aggregate (concrete, gold leaf, gold watch, brass, steel on wood, 2019) is an assertion and celebration of pure presence. Entropic (nails, burned wood, enamel, 20x11”, 2019) is a calendar. Every nail, a day lived, until finally the the surface is so scored and torn that it finally has character of its own.

“I EXIST” is a satisfying, haptic project which offers the slowing, reflective experience one receives when they give themselves permission to be bored for a period of time and go for a walk. It speaks to the body and allows the viewer lots of space to bring their own subjectivity. There’s a carefree patience balanced by meditative play. Ross’ love for material comes into the work in a way that sustains a condition for ideas to emerge.WM 


Katelynn Mills

Katelynn Mills is a painter and educator based in Southern California. She holds an MFA in Painting from The New York Studio School. Mills has been the recipient of a variety of awards, such as: The Mercedes Matter Award, the Peter Rippon/ Royal Academy Travel Grant, the Irwin Project Grant, and was an honoree for the President's Award for Excellence in Leadership at the LCU Fund for Women's Education.

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