Sally Ross at Fergus McCaffrey

Sally Ross’s carriage-house studio is two blocks from where the gridded street plans of Bushwick and Bedford Stuyvesant merge. The division is met by an elevated railway and joined on either side by the incongruities which arise as crisp abstractions are lifted into reality. Swelled into place from the germinal years of Brooklyn’s development, these once partially isolated neighborhoods now consume the perimeters of their territory, grafting into each other different periods of frenetic change and development.

These patterns of urbanism reverberate through Ross’s work—large paintings which divide and multiply as blooming networks of idiosyncratic forms. We sense an endurance to space and time recorded in the inevitable incidents of a diverse interaction of materials. Stretching and stitching together canvas with drop-cloth, jute webbing, and patterned fabrics—some portions coated with paint, others left raw—all of which suggest an underlying torrent bottlenecked into traffic. A too-muchness is dealt with, slowed down by the friction of coarse stitches it oozes out through seams of interlocking fields.

The flatness of Ross’s content resists our optical urge to see three-dimensional space, wherever a section may recede atmospherically, drips of paint remind us of its annihilating flatness. We sense a different kind of depth, the depth of an impenetrable ground, with a presence felt through the vibration of internal tension and flux.

Ross’s studio floor is also her palette and original surface from which compositional experiments grow alongside stacks of sorted material. Ross walks over and around her arrangements, testing combinations and orientations before committing to stitch them together. Different circuits recollect our gaze through convergent networks, while subtle impulses and states of mind are mapped as elements transitioning through a landscape with no space to spare.

Original motives may expire or modify to admit new impulses which arise in the course of assembly. Ross does not have to erase or restart, but rather remains oriented in the relentless forward motion of time—mindfully repurposing her activity as a sedimented record of fleeting minutia and sense of past. 

Stitching requires an intimate proximity, where the totality of the overall composition cannot figure. As we step back from close range, tactile forms enclosed by sutures become amalgamated into the simulated forms of paint. By prolonging the compositional assembly an alternative dimension of the psyche is accessed, one that does not dissipate in immediate gestures but rather neutralizes and settles a continuous advancement into bedrock. By allowing the slower pace of stitching to outlast effervescent impulses, Ross evokes a correspondence with the monotonous increments of development that are invisible in the immediacy of our conscious experience.

Joining territories on an endless continuum accounts for both space and time, it directs attention to the process of combining parts with each other to form a whole. The ancient Theseus Paradox raised the question of whether a ship, gradually replaced plank by plank remains the same entity. A similar question is made here without the function of a ship, Ross’s paintings are organized with a disdain for the practical. The absence of instrumental value demonstrates the combined interaction of material as an end in itself and the relation of time with matter. Ross presents the materials and methods of a practical order under an unfiltered lens where all the stages of decay and regeneration are left to be seen. All our relative sense between what is fresh and aged, bright and grey, wet and dry pulsates in the unity of an oscillating tide. Their stitched assembly is stretched outward yet collectively appears compressed—having the constitution of a stone wall while released in disintegrating entropy.

Urban environments represent structures from different eras in simultaneous submission to decay. The planned topography of a city emerges from abstraction into reality, while the patient work of Sally Ross appropriates the once instrumental debris of manufacture back into abstraction, and in doing so, establishes a connection with the patterns of development and dissolution from which we find our place in the larger order of things.

 Sally Ross, 'Cumulus' 2017, oil, gesso, enamel, colored pencil, etching ink, and spray paint on canvas, with polyester thread 84"x 144"

Sally Ross, 'Cumulus' 2017, oil, gesso, enamel, colored pencil, etching ink, and spray paint on canvas, with polyester thread 84"x 144"