Konrad Ross (born 1970 in South Africa) lives and works in Germany. He graduated DNAP from the École supérieure d´art de Mulhouse, France in 1996, and spent the following year as a guest student at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Germany.
His work is about identity, exploration, physicality, and ritual. He exposes the limits of the body and perspective, with distortions, imperfections, and patina revealing the very process by which the art was made. Influenced by both poetry and the ballet of William Forsythe, Ross invites the viewer on a multilayered journey out of their comfort zone to the fringes of their own physicality, beliefs, and values. But this is just an invitation. The viewer must decide whether or not to allow themselves to explore the deeper levels of that unnerving abyss. By inserting himself into esoteric practices and metamorphoses, Ross seeks to experience, along with the viewer, the full spectrum of humanity. The finished work is language, image, emotion and physical act.
On A Wire
by Deianira Tolema and Brian James Spies
In a video on his website, Konrad Ross, a South African artist living and working in Germany, describes, in reference to the figures of the Italian master Michelangelo, his aim to capture something, “truer than the literal truth”. It is this balancing act, between the world as it is and the world as we perceive it, that is at the heart of his work. His figures, roughly but not crudely drawn, evoke a sort of visceral experience of life. He cites the ballet of William Forsythe as an influence, and performance is key to approaching and understanding his work.
An artist whose oeuvre we are reminded of is Laurie Anderson, specifically the large charcoal drawings that make up her recent body of work Forty-Nine Days in the Bardo which formed the backbone of her film Heart of a Dog. Anderson’s emotive drawings, meditations on loss and grief, share with Ross’ work the murky nature of living life. That line between literal truth and lived experiences is often left undefined, and our attempts at navigating it can be a source of great pain and suffering. In grappling with these weighty topics Ross places his work in a storied lineage of artists ranging from Van Gogh and Otto Dix to contemporaries of his, like Kiki Smith and fellow South African artists Marlene Dumas and William Kentridge.
However, whereas Kentridge and Dumas’ work often evokes the echoes and reverberations of trauma, Ross’ work feels far more rooted in the present, the blood still drips wet, and the wounds have not yet scabbed over. There is an urgency to his work, a demand to be seen and heard, that is emblematic of the paradoxes of our time in history.
Looking specifically at a work like The End, wherein a Dada-esque parade of figures, all representations of the artist himself, carry a banner proclaiming the work’s title. The banner droops, the force of gravity weighing it down despite its flag bearers best intentions. Much like in life, our efforts are often undermined by forces out of our control but yet we go through the motions, postponing the inevitable.
Similarly, in a work like Fuck Off, a field of hands make the same obscene gesture evoked by the title. Slight variations of form and expression are apparent throughout, suggesting, much like Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, the infinite ways one can fuck off. Like in our world of social media, where the anonymous nature of the internet imbues us with a kind of coward's courage that reinforces a culture of bullies and brutes, this work’s figures are reduced to their acerbic message, absent of any identifying characteristics.
Another work consisting of variations on a colloquial expression, Good, features a field of hands making a “thumbs up” gesture. Much like an angsty teen’s response to how they’re doing “fine” these gestures seem hollow, meaningless, aimed more at changing the topic than at engaging in or continuing with any sort of meaningful discourse. Through repetition these gestures become stripped of their content. Language, ultimately, is a belief system that increasingly is being laid bare by a world of fake news and truthiness. In making that the focus of these works Ross exposes the limitations of our individualized society.
We are living in a psychologically and politically uncertain climate crossed by increased tension and volatility, things are in flux and work like Ross’, which does not provide the certainty of the literal, which dances instead of standing firm, communicates something very important. It is a message we need to hear because in all that searching there is a beauty, and in times of mayhem and disorder when we don’t know what’s next, beauty gives life the truth that it needs to sustain us.
*Quote from Vincent Van Gogh in letter to his brother Theo in 1885