Stepping inside of artist Ross Rossin’s workspace is a bit of a head trip. Massive hyper-realistic portraits hang on the walls, the subjects’ steady gazes calmly looking out across the clean and open space. Rossin’s portraits have a uniquely captivating quality that draws viewers closer not only by the impressive detail and nuanced brush strokes but also by the spirit that seems to seep out of each canvas. In fact, Rossin’s work is so realistic that many viewers initially can’t believe that the portraits are paintings and not high-resolution photographs.
“Physical likeness is where I start, the journey begins there,” explained Rossin. When approaching a new subject he typically studies them for only about 5 minutes, snapping photographs to reference later and then, crucially, he stares deep into the person’s eyes. This examination, if you will, is part of what Rossin considers to be a “silent dialogue – a somewhat mystical dialogue” between the artist and the subject that begins when face to face but continues on long after the subject has left and Rossin works alone with a canvas and his brush.
“It is as intimate as you can get,” Rossin said, speaking of the humanity that he seeks to encapsulate with every subject who sits for him, regardless of their position or status. His work bridges the gap between artistry and psychology with just a hint of mysticism. When displaying these works, he facilitates a further conversation between subject, artist, and now, the viewer.
“That’s intimacy shared with the world.”
Inspired by the great masters such as Rembrandt and Leonardo DaVinci, Rossin has been painting since he was only 6 years old. He earned himself a place in prestigious art schools from an early age and as a young man experimented with surrealism and abstraction but found that his true love was realist oil paintings. “Ever since I’ve done absolutely nothing else,” he said.
Originally from Bulgaria in Southeast Europe, Rossin’s mother was a librarian and his father an electrician. While the family supported his passions it was largely up to him to forge his own path in the art world. After graduating from the National Academy of Arts in Sofia, Bulgaria the political climate of the region opened up opportunities for travel, and he spent five years in Japan painting portraits for business leaders and political figures. Rossin’s reach expanded, leading to exhibitions in France, England, Belgium, and Germany, and commissioned portraits of political figures such as the President of the Republic of Cyprus, President of the Republic of Bulgaria, and the Lebanese Patriarch.
Later, five years of study and work in India became the inspiration for an exhibition titled “Ultimately Human” for the United Nations at the UN Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The portraits featured ordinary people he met on his travels alongside influential individuals such as Jimmy Carter, Ted Turner, and Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
Rossin and his wife Ava moved to Buckhead 18 years ago with their newborn son, Michael, and fell in love with the community and the art scene in Atlanta, settling down and later welcoming a daughter, Savannah, in 2015. “That’s how I know Atlanta – through Buckhead.” Locally his portraits of Paul Coverdell, Sonny Perdue, Roberto Goizueta and Douglas Ivester, Mike Bowers, and William Chase have all been received with great acclaim.
You may have also seen Rossin’s work when visiting Suntrust Park, as he was commissioned to create a nine foot sculpture of Hank Aaron swinging a bat, or perhaps you have seen the busts of VIPs on display at the Mercedes Benz Stadium.
That’s right – in addition to being a world-renowned painter, Ross Rossin is also a talented sculptor.
Rossin’s resume is impressive to say the least. He has four works on display in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC depicting Hank Aaron, Andrew Young, Morgan Freeman, and Maya Angelou. The United States Forever Postage Stamp was unveiled in 2015 featuring Rossin’s portrait of Angelou, and the Atlanta Center for Human and Civil Rights opened a museum based around his paintings of 7 key globally-recognized activists.
Political figures have always interested Rossin, and a painting of George H. Bush and George W. Bush was installed in the George H. Bush Presidential Library and Museum as well as a portrait of King George VI that was gifted to Buckingham Palace. Though most gifts are rejected by the Queen, she loved the portrait of her father so much she graciously accepted the gift.
It was when watching the King’s Speech that Rossin was struck by an interest in the portrayal of King George VI and decided he wanted to paint him. “I was just intrigued by his personality and his character,” he explained.
Rossin then contacted his friend, the Counsel General of Britain, and proposed the idea of painting the now deceased monarch as a gift from the people of Georgia to the Queen of England for her Diamond Jubilee, a multinational celebration in 2012 to commemorate 60 years since Queen Elizabeth had ascended to the throne.
“We only have one or two black and white images, so why not bring him to life?” Rossin posed.
A couple of months after offering the portrait to Buckingham Palace, Rossin heard from the Counsel: the Queen accepted the gift, loved the portrait, and wished to hang it somewhere in Georgia. Today, it is on display at the British Consulate General here in Atlanta and remains a part of Her Majesty’s personal collection.
One of Rossin’s portraits of Paul Harris, the founder of Rotary International, fetched a hefty $170,500 for the Rotary Foundation, and he was named a Paul Harris Fellow and Polio Free World Hero.
Recently, a 13’ x 20’ portrait of United States Presidents of the 20th century was purchased for a “significant amount” by the family of Harry and Brenda Patterson to display in the Presidential Gallery, and later the couple commissioned two additional canvases to include every president of the United States.
The works will be displayed at the Booth Museum and periodically travel as an exhibit through 2020. These days Rossin can be found working on site at the Booth Museum, and those interested in following along can visit the museum in person or watch the livestream online as he develops this large-scale painting over the next 12 months.
Rossin’s portraits start at $16,000 each and typically take around 10 days to complete. Or rather, that’s 10 days plus 48 years corrected Rossin, noting that his artistic confidence is due to not only his talent but also nearly half a century of experience. The fees are established on a case-by-case basis between painter and client and depend on the size, complexity, and detail of the painting. He has always leaned towards large scale works, and he averages around 40 completed pieces a year. Rossin continues to endlessly pursue beauty and connection in his work, achieving deeper and more personal works with every stroke of his brush.
“Paintings and sculptures, they last for centuries, so they had better be good” said Rossin. Indeed, he has not only immortalized notable figures of local and international politics, fame, and prestige, but he has also ensured that less-known individuals have been recorded in not just their image, but also their spirit, for generations to come.
Learn more by visiting Ross Rossin’s website or following him on social media.
UPDATED 02/04/19 – Great news for parishioners and lovers of this quaint house of worship, the Paces Ferry United Methodist Church will no longer be closing its doors. Thanks to tireless efforts by church members and Reverend Theresa Coleman, senior pastor at Collins Memorial located at 2220 Bolton Road who has stepped up to fill the vacancy left by Unti’s retirement, the church has resumed regular service. In order to facilitate multiple sermons at both locations, Coleman will lead service at Paces Ferry United Methodists on Sunday mornings at 9:30 AM. In addition, the church has announced a forthcoming campaign website to accept donations for improving the building and grounds, though it has not yet been shared online. Learn more and keep tabs on the church and its progress by visiting their website and Facebook page.
Founded in 1877, the Paces Ferry United Methodist Church (PFUMC) is one of the oldest churches in Buckhead. On October 21, 2018 the church’s lay minister Steve Unti announced his retirement after 18 years leading the congregation. When Unti approached the District Superintendent and informed her that he wanted to step down, bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church opted to close the church altogether on December 30 instead of seeking a new minister.
In an email sent to the congregation announcing the closure, Unti cited the “shifting paradigm of the church and pastoral succession” as factors in the bishop’s decision. Though the church is financially stable, a lack of leadership and declining membership may have contributed to the ruling as decreed by Haupert-Johnson and her cabinet.
The adjoining cemetery, named Pleasant Hill, dates back to 1896. According to the historical marker on site the one acre lot was initially donated by William Brown, a Confederate soldier and local celebrity of sorts, on the 29th of September in 1877 for the purposes of establishing a church. Years later, Brown was interred in the cemetery alongside a number of soldiers from the civil war. FindAGrave reports that there are at least 95 graves on site, though many are unmarked.
“This church is really a snapshot in time,” explained Parishioner Harriet P Adams who has been attending the church for the past two years. In a fast-paced world, Adams cited the church’s humble setting as being quite comforting for reflection and togetherness, akin to her experience growing up in a small town. “It is a nod to a time long ago that brought us to today,” she continued. “A small but mighty experience!”
Marie Macadam, a member for nearly ten years, encouraged her entire 6 person family to join the Paces Ferry United Methodist Church after stopping in for a service on a whim one day. “We love the simple nature of the church,” said Macadam. “Piano music, old hymns, a close-knit congregation, no pomp and circumstance.” Inside, creaky pews and remnants of a wood-burning stove remind visitors of the building’s rich history.
“The church is just a special place and a little gem in the heart of busy Buckhead where one can experience Christ in their own personal way,” said Macadam.
Not only has the church provided a place to worship for more than a century, it also was briefly the home of a Pleasant Hill Private Academy run by teacher Ida Williams who later went on to establish the Buckhead Library. Though members of the community, congregation, and neighborhood have all been voicing their concerns about the fate of this property, the church is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places or otherwise historically protected. However, the plot’s smaller size, cemetery, and zoning for single family residential mean that any future development changes are unlikely.
Members have reported that there were no signs to indicate that the church would close its doors at the end of last year, and Macadam says that there are interested church members who would prefer to step up and lead the church instead of accepting the closure as final. “The members and friends of the church were not given any warning at all about the closing,” said Macadam. “We were very disappointed that we were not given a say in the matter or given the opportunity to step up and take over for those in leadership positions that are retiring.”
While the future is uncertain for the building, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation has come forward and stated their support for the church’s revamp in the future. Ideas for uses that celebrate the building’s history and keep it open to the public have been circulating online, such as the possibility that a new minister might begin a new congregation there. As of today, the doors remain locked, lights turned off, and a gate is locked across the modest driveway. In the adjacent Pleasant Hill Cemetery vines have begun to wind around headstones, some of which have been disrupted and lay prostrate on the ground.
While the future for this quaint little church remains uncertain, it is the dedication of community and congregation members such as Adams and Macadam that offers hope that this relic of days gone by will stick around for years to come.