Ammon Rost: Centerfold
New Image Art
February 9 – March 9, 2019
By Shana Nys Dambrot
Gingerly swept lines float above and between archipelagos of thickly laid pigment and beneath feathered sprays like the residue of dark smoke. Schematic silhouettes of possible palm trees, what could be lovers or letters, shapes of total abstraction, and remnants of text and symbols converge and jostle apart across wide expanse of earthy negative space. And in an exciting evolution of painter Ammon Rost’s compelling style, a profusion of lavish color like a field of crushed wildflowers both enhances the imagery and seeks to break free from it.
Rost posits this confident, sensitive ecosystem as a visual corollary to romantic love’s paradoxical intensity and impermanence. Manifested with an intuitive and contagious directness, Rost’s orchestrations of nearly recognizable shapes, numbers and writing, elements of locale, and the strong suggestion of the figure evoke the liminal moment when you first start to forget what someone looks like. The eruptions of saturated color inject emotional intensity into this contemplation, as when unexpected memories return in flashes.
Most of these large-scale works are only almost square, so the eye’s expectations are lightly subverted at every moment, and the mind runs a kind of perception filter in the background trying to resolve the equation, producing a vaguely unsettled feeling, an organic quirk it’s hard to define in the moment. But that’s the thing about love, isn’t it? The imperfections become the fixations. This principle is at work inside the compositions themselves, a sense of balanced asymmetry in the manner of ikebana, a ceremonial art of flower arranging held in high regard in Rost’s native Tokyo. For that matter, he credits Buddhism with his capacity for interiority, quiet attention, and fascination with emptiness. There is further a certain calligraphic quality to the isolated lines that dance in the pictorial atmosphere.
Many different kind of brushwork from the wet to fine to the knife instead result in treatments from flat to impasto, across ground and object; only one has real pictorial space and yet the pictures are not flat. The surfaces are animated enough and the eye prompted into sufficient movement that it feels like space anyway. Sophisticated color theory is operational in that dynamic as well, as blues shot through with other blues and certain beckoning reds and a post-fleshy pink and a pale yellow all conspire to keep the eye in perpetual, gentle motion.
There is also a more muscular language of American modernism spoken in the broader gestures that define some moments, along with material suggestions of referential emptiness, and self-aware process painting. Inflections of Cy Twombly, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, and Laura Owens keep his accumulations firmly tethered to the realm of art history rather than say, a street-art lexicon of mark-making. The work is fresh faced, but it has an old soul.