Introduction

The subjects of Chaim Gross's sculptures and graphic works were predominantly women and circus performers. For almost seventy years, the variety of movements and poses and the sense of balance displayed by these subjects provided Gross with an endless source of ideas for his art.

As seen in his Acrobatic Performers, Gross particularly liked to carve the hardest and densest woods that he could find. He stated that "the harder the wood the more pleasure I get from chipping away and exposing the forms that I want." Bird's-eye maple falls into this category, but it had other features that must have appealed to him: unusual texture, grain, and color that could be revealed and heightened in the carving. The patterned markings of the artist's chisel also give added emphasis to the slippers, pants, and hair. Considering that the wood in this relief has a thickness of only one and a quarter inches, the convincing physicality of the figures is a real testament to the carver's abilities.

Gross's belief that the subject is a vehicle for obtaining an "aesthetic response from the arrangement of forms" is apparent in the complex interweaving lines and shapes. Indeed the relief possesses an abstract pattern that links it directly to the modernist movement of the period, yet it has been created with the greatest appreciation of the inherent nature of the bird's-eye maple.

Acrobats, circus performers, and dancers are the subjects of a quarter of all Chaim Gross's sculptural works. His admiration for these performers originated in memories of his childhood in the Carpathian Mountains, where the "magic circus," as he called it, came to town once a year. For Gross, the acrobats expressed a buoyancy, energy, and physical closeness while also allowing him a formal freedom. Gross observed in 1938:

"People have often asked me why I am interested in acrobatic figures. I am not interested in acrobats per se, but I use the subjects because I find in them many possibilities of variations in form and movement. As a matter of fact, I do not consider a piece of work of mine successful unless it can be turned upside down and still evoke an esthetic response. My acrobats allow me to combine and interlock forms and permit a flow of one form into another. In addition, this subject matter lends itself to spiraling which aids me in achieving a three-dimensional effect. This spiraling adds a lift to the figure, for the eye is carried upwards and thus gives a monumental effect to even a small piece of sculpture".