Charles Ross

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Charles Ross

The 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 planetary motion.

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 Earth’s 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 Earth’s 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 earth’s 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 Laban Wingert to create a place for quiet reflection. The Dwan Light Sanctuary is a unique solar spectrum space -- a round chamber whose dimensions and sloping walls are based on astronomical relationships and seasonal angles of the sun. Twenty-four large prisms produce orchestrated spectrum events that circulate through the space, changing by the hour and with the seasons. The Dwan Light Sanctuary was dedicated in 1996 at the Armand Hammer United World 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 d’Oiron 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 Chateau d’Oiron.

Art historian and critic Donald Kuspit has written: “Charles Ross is light’s advocate, converting us to an indepth appreciation of light’s 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 other stars.

Solar Spctrum, Harvard Business School Chapel 1992




The Year of Solar
, Chateau d'Oiron, France 1993





Solar Spectrum (detali)
Dwan Light Santuary, United World College, Montezuma, NM, 1996






Particle Light Drawings


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