Until recently, Adam Ross has been known mostly for his process-oriented abstract paintings on wood. Those who have followed the LA-based artist's career, however, have long suspected a more representational urge in the work, emerging in oblique references to TV monitors, car body customising, or bizarre topographies. With this show of paintings and graphite drawings, and an exhibition last year at Shoshana Wayne Gallery in Santa Monica, those suspicions have proved correct: Ross has abandoned abstraction for fantastical ruminations on the future of landscape.
The three paintings shown in New York bear a resemblance to Ross' previous work in their ultra-slick, sanded surfaces and post-nuclear palette, but the mottled fields of colour have now been colonised by strange cityscapes that somehow subsist under hostile conditions. All three panels are dominated by an icy-hot, chartreuse-green, which suffuses the scenes with a dense atmosphere and glowing luminescence. Along the bottom of each painting are hi-tech cities composed of elongated, lozenge-shaped towers, bulging receptacles, gridded, cage-like structures and an extensive circuitry of wispy interconnections. Bulbous forms that defy gravity bob high up in the heavy atmosphere, presumably sources of oxygen for the unpopulated metropolis to which they are tethered. All this figurative activity is pushed to the margins of the long, horizontal panels, however, and the majority of the space is filled with the glowing green haze, a mesmerising and expansive void that is just as transfixing as the urban drama. This insistence on light and boundless horizontal space, not to mention Ross's detached style, brings to mind the American Luminists of the 19th century whose similarly dreamy views of harbours and fields evoked a contemplative sublime. Ross's sublime is much less soothing, and is often undermined by a certain goofiness in the outlandish forms of his landscapes yet the overarching effect is to inspire introspection on both nature and technological progress.
Ross' graphite on paper works function in a similar way, allowing the eye either to drift around the empty space of white paper, or zoom downwards to probe the features of the busy metropolis. There are no humans to be found here, and it is nearly impossible to imagine any traditional inhabitation among the tangle of wires, windowless and doorless 'buildings' and barren platforms. Perhaps life-forms have been reduced to purely digital entities who have no need to circulate, their every desire satisfied by the self-sufficient superstructure. Each drawing offers a different hypothesis on urban development in the future and not only stretches Ross' imagination in the process, but also feeds our own: these glimpses of the cities of tomorrow are not completely inconceivable.
This type of work also has a history, of course, from Antonio Sant'Elia to Buck Rogers, but perhaps closest to Ross in the visual imaging of the future is the work of visionary architect Hugh Ferris, whose dark conté crayon drawings from the late 20s evoke a similar sense of the inhospitable. Untitled (1997), a shadowy close-up of an elevated conduit cutting through a forest of structures is strongly reminiscent of Ferris' dramatic metropolitan vistas and similarly rooted in present day realities, even as it leans out into the unknown. The titillating and frightening aspects of Ross' pictures or any futurist fictions for that matter could easily be written off as indulgent fantasies if it weren't for their inherent grounding in what already exists around us. In Ross' case, we are tellingly reminded of our present situation: from toxic sunsets in LA, pop-up towns in the Arizona desert, sky-high towers in Malaysia, or hi-tech hubs like Euralille.