On ViewRyan Lee Gallery
July 12 – August 11, 2017
Since 1996, when he began his Hurricane series, Clifford Ross has been reproducing digital photographs and videos of waves in a number of formats. Wood Waves consists of two triptychs made of plywood panels facing each other across the exhibition space. Wood is not a support generally associated with prints, but Ross has made a career of pushing the envelope of digitally produced art. Here, he has cleverly used the languid patterns of maple veneer plywood, not unlike water silk, as a counterpoint to the implicit speed and force of the wave images. In another paradoxical pairing, the spare installation and the plywood veneer bring to mind the lean look of Minimalism, in contrast to the rich detail of the images and the understated sensuality of the printed surfaces. However, these contrasts emerge slowly, as Ross has balanced the object and image aspects of these artworks with such precision that grasping the tensions within them requires sustained attention. The wave images harbor their own contradictions, or rather multiplicities, as they speak to the double edge of nature’s power—its majesty and its destructive potential, now exacerbated by climate change. In other words, the triptychs make for bracing company, as each attempt at interpreting them crests, and then breaks, dissolving on the sands of a new insight.
One of the many rewards in this show is contemplating the differences between the two works, as they stand in such stark contrast. Wood Wave LXXX (2015) looks at first blush a great deal like its gallery mate, Wood Wave LXXXI (2015). In fact, Wood Wave LXXX, at 74 by 114 inches is more compact, giving the image—a cresting wave—greater lateral compression. Wood Wave LXXXI, 74 by 144 inches, shows a long, smooth, roller of a wave after it has already broken, in keeping with its comparatively more expansive framing. The rhythms in the two images are quite different as well. Wood Wave LXXX has a three-part structure: sky, wave, and water, moving in a near geometric progression from narrowest to widest, so as to emphasize the movement of the wave coming at us. Wood Wave LXXX’s structure is more balanced, with the sky and rolling wave at top occupying the same area and proportions as the foam from the broken crest and the water below, which occupy the lower portions, giving a more static feel to the overall composition.
What both triptychs share is a massive physical presence that seems oddly weightless, like catching sight of a muscular acrobat in mid-flight. Ross accomplishes this through the implicit weight of the plywood sheets dissolving under the all-over patterns of the wave images, as well as the dematerializing quality of the colors that perpetually shift between the warmth of the wood and the coolness of the printer ink. It stands to reason that Ross began his career in painting and sculpture, as these objects, while keeping a conceptual edge by pushing at the limits of image production, have a powerfully expressive sensual register. Ross’s triptychs capture a wildness that certainly mirrors the inexorable power of the tides, but also bring to mind the promise of release hidden within Pollock’s quip “I am nature.”