Don’t try to categorize Ross Rossin because he’ll fool you.
The Bulgarian-born American portrait artist’s recently completed 4-foot high portrait of King George VI was presented to Queen Elizabeth in honor of her Diamond Jubilee this year marking her 60-year reign.
The queen responded positively saying that she liked the portrait of her father and asked that it be displayed in a public place somewhere in Georgia where as many people as possible would see it.
That’s how it got to be on view at the residence of British Consul General Annabelle Malins during her annual holiday reception on Dec. 5.
Why paint King George VI now? “Well, I saw the movie,” was Mr. Rossin’s quick response to Global Atlanta’s question.
During an interview in his workshop located in his home in the Margaret Mitchell neighborhood of northwest Atlanta, he gave a more considered answer than just having seen the “King’s Speech.”
“He is the first modern monarch. You can see in his human face his compassion for those less fortunate experiencing the difficulty of the time,” he said referring to King George’s struggle to overcoming a speech impediment so that he could play an important leadership role during World War II.
“That compassion came from his own struggle… that is what is in his eyes as well as his unconditional love for family and country. And that’s why his daughter has become one of the greatest monarchs of all time.”
Mr. Rossin makes his living as a portrait painter, but many of his portraits of historical figures – and there are many – he does without a commission.
“I like the big questions,” he said. “Why are we here? What motivates my subjects?”
Corporate CEOs, partners in Atlanta’s major law firms, and esteemed judges have all commissioned Mr. Rossin to paint their portraits.
Like all of his subjects, he seeks to capture their interiors as much as their exteriors. And it puts them in exalted company, indeed.
An eclectic array of portraits hang in is studio including those of the 19th century Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy; Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the first lady of the U.S. from 1961-63; the actor Morgan Freeman; Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron; Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria from 1999-2007; former Atlanta mayor, U.S. congressman and U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Andrew Young and, yes, even Jesus Christ.
These are just some of the large (often 4-foot high) portraits that keep him company, starring down from the walls of his studio.
He also is known for painting U.S. presidents. What is promoted as his masterpiece, “A Meeting in Time,” depicts the eighteen U.S. presidents of the 20th century gathered in the White House. The 13- by 20-foot work took four years to complete and currently is on view at the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville.
He has a fascination with U.S. presidents. Portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter hang in his studio.
When asked if he had seen the actor Daniel Day-Lewis’ depiction of Mr. Lincoln in the Stephen Spielberg production, he indicated he had up to that point been too apprehensive to go.
He said that he had studied Mr. Lincoln so hard and had such an acute vision of him, he feared seeing an actor’s interpretation, no matter how skillful. That’s not to say he wouldn’t go eventually.
Now that his reputation seems based on his abilities as a large-scale realist portrait painter of modern and historical figures who provides glimpses into the souls of his subjects, who else might turn up in his portfolio?
You have been warned; he’ll fool you. Yes, there she is in all her splendor, a plastic Barbie. There are other surprises as well including a bald Britney Spears.
There also are landscapes including Atlanta businessman Virgil Williams with his family, all on horseback, at the Southern Heritage Plantation in Albany, or “Opening Day at Bear Creek” of a fox hunt featuring real estate developer Hal Barry’s Bear Creek hounds in a pastoral setting near Moreland.
Mr. Rossin took to painting as a child growing up in Russe, Bulgaria, on the Danube and his profession led him to lengthy stays in Japan and many European countries.
Although now an American citizen, he remains a loyal Bulgarian in the sense that he has a deep appreciation for the “great resilience, stubbornness and spiritual hunger” of his people.
His portrait of Vasil Levski, a national hero who sought to free the country from Ottoman rule, hangs in the presidency in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital.
He also is proud that after many years of suffering under communism Bulgaria is a member of the European Union and has not succumbed to some of the travails plaguing Greece, Spain or Portugal economically.
He originally was granted an O-visa for his outstanding ability in the arts and a chance encounter in Washington with Karen Hudson, an art representative in Atlanta, brought him here with his family.
Having become a U.S. citizen in 2010, he considers himself a proud Georgian and is so taken with the state that he named his daughter Savannah after Georgia’s main port city.
And since he joined Rotary International in Japan, he maintained his membership after moving to Atlanta to the extent that he raised more than $170,000 for the organization’s campaign to eradicate polio by painting a portrait of its founder Paul Harris, which was auctioned off at its annual convention in 2011.