Athens may be a small town, but it is densely populated by creative minds.

Due to this, it may be challenging for an artist to have his or her work stand out from the crowd, but ATHICA gives promising artists a platform from which to launch their careers.

The gallery’s current exhibit, “Emerges VIII,” showcases the talent of Athenian artists in narrative form. One of the locals benefiting from such exposure is Michael Ross. 

The painter entered the gallery after showing his painting, “Checkered Hearts,” to Linnea West, the exhibit’s curator, after she asked if he had any works based on fantasy.

According to West, the chosen artists forgo realism to produce works of art that invite the mind to reconsider the unreal.

“We settled right away on ‘Checkered Hearts:’ a large, visually-narrated story with an element of the fantastical,” Ross said. “The painting essentially contains two worlds at once.”

In many ways, Ross' work contains two paintings in one. The first part of his piece features a dark and cold image, while the second part contains more fantastical and positive themes.

The director of ATHICA, Tatiana Veneruso, said this year marks the eighth-consecutive time that the exhibit has featured local up-and-comers. 

She also noted the organization has been known to display national and international artists in other series. 

ATHICA is a local nonprofit dedicated to exhibiting contemporary art, getting its start back in spring 2002. Every year since, the art gallery has given local artists a forum to display their work.

Veneruso said the purpose of the Emerges series was to not only showcase and nurture new talent, but to give new artists a chance to exhibit in a professional gallery and get a lot of exposure.

West summarizes the symbolization of Ross’ “Checkered Hearts” as a painting which brings history painting in touch with magical realism, as his accurately rendered Finnish soldiers of World War II are entranced by visions of glowing Christmas magic.

“Emerges VIII” was the perfect opportunity for Ross to gain exposure, since the descriptors fantasy and narrative characterize most of his work.

“I’m a figurative painter working with a romantic sensibility.  I work at the intersection of the natural world, the human world, and the world of stories and memories and myths,” Ross said. 

The painter claims to revel in contrast. Feelings of joy and sadness often clash in Ross’ work, with duality serving as a common motif. 

Ross’ pieces also heavily emphasizes an appeal to the senses. The artist utilizes physical aesthetics to emphasize the complex emotions that his paintings convey.

As Ross hones his craft, he looks to use “Emerges VIII” as a stepping stone, leading him to greater exposure.

“Emerges VIII” ends on Aug. 23, but Ross has an exhibit at the Georgia Museum of Art lined up to showcase his paintings. He also has his work on display at the Branded Butcher. 

The busy year seems like a sign of an upward trajectory for someone who has always seen himself as an artist and is fully dedicated to his craft.

“My job as a painter is to make windows into my world, to share what I think is important and beautiful,” Ross said.