Curiosities: “Completely Magical”

Dramatic photograph of volatile hurricane waves, by artist Clifford Ross
Hurricane LXXXIV©Clifford Ross/courtesy of the Portland Museum of Art

Clifford Ross doesn’t so much evoke nature as recreate how we see it. Since turning to photography in the 1990s, he has produced a store of images that primarily reflect two subjects: Colorado’s Mount Sopris, and waves breaking on the shores of Long Island. The sites appear in various forms and media throughout Clifford Ross: Sightlines, at the Portland Museum of Art, October 8-January 9. “One amazing thing about this show is how an economy of means gives rise to this endless creative profusion,” says exhibit curator Jessica May (formerly at the Portland museum, and now managing director of art and exhibitions at The Trustees and artistic director of the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum). “His work is both high modernist American abstraction and this extraordinary representation of the natural world.”

Although one-dimensional, his water, trees, and earth seem to unfold and shapeshift on the wall. For the “Waterline” series, Ross cropped images and printed them on slick, translucent paper, says May, letting the ink pool before it sets. The “completely magical” forms “trick your eye: ‘Am I looking at a negative so finely delineated that you can see the leaves on a tree a half a mile from where the photo was taken?’” May asks, “‘or am I looking at a watercolor?’” Similarly, the gray-scaled “Hurricane” series (Hurricane LXXXIV) renders the purity of massive, turbulent, foaming waves—looking like fresh-whipped cream—that crest and curl toward crash landings. But focus, too, on the balanced effervescent sea spray and delicacy of droplets. Ross’s work urges viewers to engage, to get right up close and witness the elemental powers of nature.

Read more articles by: Nell Porter Brown

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