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    Green Machine
by Christian Viveros-Fauné
Installation view
at Mary Boone.
Alexander Ross, "New Paintings," Mar. 25 -May 1, 1999, at Mary Boone Gallery, 745 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10151.

"A picture is something which requires as much knavery, trickery and deceit as the perpetration of a crime," Edgard Degas said by way of justifying his own sleight-of-hand experiments with light and movement. Alexander Ross has taken this advice to heart.

The first step is the construction of detailed plasticine models. Then there are photographs of the models, which Ross later crops, edits and assembles into mock-ups. Ross then paints based on a third-hand photographic experience, enlarged many times over. The painting becomes not a rendition of something hard and fast like a Campbell's soup can, but a picture of a process -- a passage through several skeptical filters, each of which leaves its own thumbprint as surely as Leopold and Loeb revealed their M.O.

Ross' painted thingamajigs (there is really no other term for them) look like faceted green, blobs, some cratered like a lunar landscape, some with suckers like an octopus arm. On occasion these enigmatic forms are blurred, as if the figures had been captured in paint while out of focus. A sheen appears on others, answering to the light refracting qualities of photographic paper. The canvases display whole areas of flatness, entire backgrounds devoid of any visible brushwork -- a condition that would call zero attention to itself, were it not for the fact that nearly every one of Ross' paintings mask an embarrassment of painterly riches.

However abstract Ross' pictures may be, their malleable forms shuttle between biology and topography, the natural and the man-made, science and science-fiction, abstraction and figuration, the pictorial and the invented, the micro and the macro. Computers, comics and other related media then provide Ross' driving style, his bridgeworks.

All paintings are Untitled and date from 1998 or '99. In one, a stack of three indented forms sits upon a pedestal of the same curious material like a pile of green protein, standing stark against Ross' standard baby-blue background. Another presents a close-up view of the trunk of a single figure laid on with noticeably thinner, rapid brushstrokes. Still another painting displays accumulations of impasto, gathering on the smoothness of Ross' friendly post-pop image like barnacles on a whale's side. A fourth picture is flat, relying on evenly applied areas of interlocked green, bluish-green, yellow and white to mimic Army camouflage -- a good defense. Lastly, there is a loosely controlled and madly stable painting (everything with Ross comes in opposites) portraying a mess of cells on a blue-white background, the bend and flow of the paint swirling into eddies in the manner of van Gogh's Starry Night.

In each of his canvases, Ross leads the viewer into an open-ended investigation of the paintings' surface and significance. His ultimate demand: to always keep the thinking muse nearby.

CHRISTIAN VIVEROS-FAUNÉ is art critic for the New York Press.