Voices of our Community


Heroes of the Civil and Human Rights Movements, Immortalized on Canvas

by Kristi York Wooten

(Pictured: Estela Barnes de Carlotto and Ross Rossin with his portrait of her in the Human Rights Gallery at The Center. Photo by Tiffany Powell.)


Ross Rossin is having a great year.

The Bulgarian-born, Atlanta-based fine artist is receiving a lot of recognition for his hyper-realistic portraits of civil and human rights heroes.

The Center for Civil and Human Rights features several of Rossin's works in our exhibition, Spark of Conviction: The Global Human Rights Movement, which includes lifelike representations of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt and others. One of the paintings in the exhibition is a portrait of Argentinian human rights activist, Estela Barnes de Carlotto, who served as president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a human rights organization dedicated to locating the missing children who were kidnapped and illegally adopted during Argentine Dirty War in the late 1970s.

When Carlotto came to Atlanta to visit The Center on May 5, 2015, she experienced the excitement of seeing her Rossin portrait in person for the first time. The exhibition's curator, Jill Savitt, led her through The Center to the Human Rights Gallery as special guests such as former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Civil Rights leader C.T. Vivian looked on.

"It was incredible to experience that moment," Franklin says of the reveal.

Rossin was also recognized recently for his painting of civil rights author and poet Maya Angelou. At a ceremony in Washington, D.C. on April 7, he gathered with Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Ambassador Andrew Young and other notables to celebrate the United States Postal Service's unveiling of the new Maya Angelou "Forever" stamp, which features his portrait front and center.

The stamp's image of Angelou is so richly detailed; it could be mistaken for a fine art photograph. Rossin's original painting, a four-feet-by-four-feet canvas of Angelou's face, will hang at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery's collection in Washington through November 1, 2015.

Ross Rossin (in yellow tie) at the unveiling of the Maya Angelou Forever Stamp featuring his potrait of the poet.
Photo courtesy of the United States Postal Service.


Prior to painting the Angelou portrait a year before her 2014 death, Rossin visited the poet in her Winston-Salem, North Carolina home.

He recalls his Angelou encounter as one of his favorite days.

"We met on her 85th birthday, on April 4, 2013," the artist says of Angelou. "I went to her home and we spent a full afternoon together. It was quite special just being in her presence. She held my hand. When you're near a spirit like hers, it gives dimension to everything she's done and created."

Of his photo-realist method, the artist says:

"My work is oil on canvas with classical technique. There's no particular trick or secret to it, except that I've done it for 45 years. I meet someone, we spend some time together, I take some pictures and then a few months later I go back and present the portrait. I also bring my own experiences of glorious moments, disappointments, depression, dreaming, changing countries, social systems, political systems and continents. It all adds up to the 'secret sauce.'"

About his famous faces of the 20th and 21st centuries, Rossin believes the portraits have a unique quality beyond the physical similarity to their subjects:

"The paintings carry a certain energy and a message, so that generations to come will look at one face or another and think, 'Those were truly amazing human beings back then.' It's more than photographic likeness, it's souls."

What's next for the artist? He flies to South Africa later this year to paint Desmond Tutu.

For more information about Rossin's work, Click HERE.

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