subject of Charles Ross art is light itself. Using sunlight
and starlight as its source, the work manifests experiences of primal
solar color, and star geometry in sculptural form. Ross work
includes photographs, paintings and drawings, site-specific prism/solar
spectrum light installations, Star Maps, Solar Burns, and his enormous
earth/sky sculpture and naked-eye observatory, Star Axis.
In 1967 Ross joined the stable of artists at the Dwan Gallery in
New York where both the Minimal and Land Art movements originated
other artists with Dwan included Robert Smithson, Michael
Heizer, Walter DeMaria, Dan Flavin, and Sol Lewitt. In the early
1960s Ross studied mathematics and physics at UC, Berkeley before
discovering sculpture. There he collaborated with Anna Halpern to
create a dance performance titled Parades and Changes, which became
one of the first cultural events to tour behind the iron curtain.
After Dwan Gallery closed in 1972 Ross went on to exhibit with John
Weber Gallery in New York until 1986. His work has been exhibited
in numerous museums including The Whitney Biennial, 1969; The Venice
Biennale, 1986; The Centre Pompidou; The Hirshhorn Museum; PS1,
New York; SITE Santa Fe; and The Lyon Biennale, 2000. He has created
major permanent artworks in Japan, France, Costa Rica, and throughout
the US. Recently Ross completed three major solar spectrum works:
one for the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, another at the new
Federal Courthouse in Tampa, Florida, and the third in collaboration
with architect Riken Yamamoto for Saitama University, a medical
school near Tokyo. At Saitama University there is a great interest
in Ross solar spectrum artwork for its potential healing properties.
Ross continues to develop new artworks involving light, time, and
Star Axis is a part of the Land Art movement begun in the 1960s
and 70s. Located in the New Mexico desert, Star Axis was conceived
in 1971 and is now nearing completion. This earthwork is on an Egyptian
or pre-Columbian scale. It includes a Solar Pyramid, where from
inside you can view an hour of Earths rotation. The central
element of Star Axis, the Star Tunnel, is cut into the side of a
mesa with an ascending 60 metre stairway in perfect alignment with
the axis of the earth. As visitors climb the stairs of the Star
Tunnel they pass through 26,000 years of Earth/star history, viewing
distant past and future aspects of Earths shifting alignment
with the stars.
Eleven stories high and 1/10th mile across, Star Axis is an architectonic
sculpture that literally places viewers inside the trajectory of
the earths axis. Like the observatories of many ancient cultures,
Star Axis captures earth/star alignments. Ross remarks: Each
element of Star Axis, every shape, every measure, every angle, was
first discovered by astronomical observation and then brought down
into the land star geometry anchored in earth and rock.
In 1965 Ross invented a way to create large-scale prisms
minimal forms that bend and refract both light and perception. He
then began working with large-scale prisms to project huge bands
of solar color into architectural spaces. Believing in the importance
of bringing a sense of the cosmos into daily life, Ross has continued
this work, creating arrays of giant prisms specifically tuned to
the sun and mounted in the skylights and windows of public buildings.
The solar spectrums cascade down the walls and across the floor,
continuously changing as they are propelled through the architecture
by the turning of the Earth. In 1992 he completed Solar Spectrum,
commissioned for the Harvard Business School Chapel, in collaboration
with architect Moshe Safdie. The chapel received both the Boston
Society of Architects Award for Art and Architecture Collaboration,
and the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture Design
Award. In 1972, architect Moshe Safdie asked Ross to create a spectrum
work for a synagogue he was building in the old city of Jerusalem.
It would have been his first architectural commission, but disputes
within the client organization killed the project. Nineteen years
later, in the spring of 1991, he heard from Moshe again. The work
planned for the synagogue was still very much alive in his mind
and he wanted to take it a step further in a new setting - the Harvard
Business School Chapel.
The chapel is non-denominational and involves two forms, the intersection
of a concrete cylinder with a glass pyramid. Its pristine shape
and intimate scale offered the opportunity to develop the spiritual
aspects of the spectrum. He wanted to bring a sense of cosmos into
the sanctuary. As the piece unfolded, a unique and dramatic interaction
developed between the spectrum and the curved walls of the architecture.
The spectrums move down these curved surfaces, evolving from lines
of light, to swords of light, to a kind of iridescent drapery, landing
on the floor as blocks of pure color.
The location of the site caused the time scale to be somewhat limited.
Both Moshe and Ross wanted the spectrum to last longer, so they
asked solar architect Tom Hopper to create a tracking system for
the prisms. This system realigns the prisms to meet both morning
and afternoon sun, and doubles the length of the spectrum events
by slowing their speed down the walls. The tracking structure looks
like it belongs to the work. It becomes a natural element derived
from the requirements of sun and site.
The chapel received both the Boston Society of Architects Award
for Art and Architecture Collaboration, and the Interfaith Forum
on Religion, Art and Architecture Design Award.
In 1994 Virginia Dwan began a collaboration with Ross and architect
Wingert to create a place for quiet reflection. The Dwan Light Sanctuary
a unique solar spectrum space -- a round chamber whose dimensions
sloping walls are based on astronomical relationships and seasonal
the sun. Twenty-four large prisms produce orchestrated spectrum
circulate through the space, changing by the hour and with the seasons.
Dwan Light Sanctuary was dedicated in 1996 at the Armand Hammer
College in Montezuma, New Mexico.
In 1999, at the request of architect Riken Yamamoto, Spectrum 12
was commissioned for Saitama Prefecture University, near Tokyo.
In the Student Lounge of this medical school Mr. Yamamoto wanted
the art to feel as though naturally integrated into the architecture.
He understood light to be the only match for the light that washed
the interior spaces of his minimal, suspended glass design. As a
result 10 acrylic prisms are hidden in the ceiling of the space,
so that the spectrum light appears to emerge from within the architecture.
2 acrylic prisms are visible in one of the clerestories of the space.
The aim of this University is to educate specialists of nursing,
welfare and rehabilitation for the forthcoming aging society. Because
there's a tradition of using colored light for healing in a number
of cultures, there is a great interest in the solar spectrum artwork
for its potential healing properties.
To create Sunlight Convergence/Solar Burn (1971-72), Ross burned
the daily movement of the sun onto planks of wood by concentrating
sunlight through a magnifying lens -- he collected these solar burns
each day for one year. In 1993 he documented another year of sunlight
for The Year of Solar Burns, which was commissioned by the French
Ministry of Culture for permanent installation in the fifteenth-century
Chateau dOiron in the Loire Valley. Each of the 365 planks,
with its curved smoky flarings, captures one day of sunlight, a
portrait of sunlight drawn by the sun itself. Continuous or interrupted
and stopped by clouds the solar burns are a physical counterpart
to the temporal nature of his spectrum work. Ross also discovered
that when laid end to end, the solar burns trace a double spiral.
This spiral was later used to study the Anasazi Sun Dagger Calendar
at Chaco Canyon. A bronze double spiral, made with the shapes of
the Year of Solar Burns has also been laid into the floor at the
Art historian and critic Donald Kuspit has written: Charles
Ross is lights advocate, converting us to an indepth appreciation
of lights presence to an awareness of the extent to
which we exist in and through it
.What counts in all these
works is that the visible result is the sign of an impingement of
the cosmic on the earth-bound. Once in a while in extraordinary
storms, or gales we know what it is like to live in a natural
event. Charles Ross creates works with spiraling, cyclical changes,
that evoke such sensations, works that give a feeling of what it
is to live on a planet revolving around the sun, in a galaxy of
Spctrum, Harvard Business School Chapel 1992
Year of Solar
Burns, Chateau d'Oiron, France 1993
Dwan Light Santuary, United World College, Montezuma, NM,