Nick Pearson
A fictional bridge between David Ross’ tree paintings and the Western filmic narrative that informs them could open with the posse riding across the flat open landscape and read something like the following: “A birch forest stopped us in our tracks, upright, dense and bare in the late autumn light. Rhythmic and uniform, a pattern broken only occasionally by a rogue branch or uprooted trunk on the diagonal, held up, unable to fall, due to the thick crush of its neighbours. Held in stasis as we too were blocked in our path, confronted by this natural barrier.”

Of The Most Beautiful Western series, perhaps the tree paintings are the most minimal in the way they are constructed. The a la prima or ‘first touch’ handling of the thin, and thinly painted trees in the distance has a lateral movement across the canvas and a shallow space that is dense and difficult to negotiate. The illusion of space is activated and intensified with just a thin slither of sky between the treetops and the top edge of the canvas. This treetop gap is well judged, allowing for a momentary, but claustrophobic breathing space that is at odds with the usually long, cinematic vistas employed in the rest of the series. Are these perhaps individual frames from a long take of a limitless boundary? Beneath, or perhaps in front of the trees, a slab of flat slightly inflected colour slams us immediately up against the surface – a reminder that we are looking at paint – and again, stopping us in our tracks, pulling the thinking eye back and forth between the constructed spacial interstices of the forest and the colour field space of the painting’s surface.

Whilst these are possibly the least narrative works in the series, the absence of action or information charges the atmosphere with possibility, like the cavalryman awaiting the next attack (‘I don’t like it sarge, it’s too quiet…’) and in the best filmic tradition, we fear what is to happen next.

One work, shown between two cold-coloured wintry scenes, (the trees are always bare in these paintings) is a highly charged slow-reading exercise in muted colour that creeps up on the viewer as it establishes and differentiates itself from its neighbours. The colour is certainly there, but seems almost only visible by comparison. Ross is a practiced colourist, wearing his skills up, rather than on his sleeve.

Copyright © Nick Pearson 2002 All Rights Reserved