Ohio artist Bill Ross does not subscribe to the “aesthetics only” propaganda of the avant-garde. As an art student in the 1980s, Ross was stubborn in regards to his work. Complete abstract expressionism was the accepted norm, but Ross’ work plunged the viewer into an idiosyncratic world of slapstick surrealism. Many reviewers have commented on Ross’ works and some of the usual descriptions are “candy colored”, “playful”, and “decorative.” While Ross’ work is all that, there is also an undeniable and inherent element of danger underneath a deceptively bright colored surface. That danger is a true trait of surrealism.
In the 21st century, abstract expressionism has long lost its edge. It has become academic and hopelessly safe, feeling quite at home in the local LS Ayres office, yet it’s elder brother, Surrealism, has lost none of its edge. One will not find the likes of a Hans Bellmer or Man Ray hanging on bank walls, even to this day. While New York gallery shows of avant-garde icons were patronized by the champagne sipping elite, surrealists Luis Bunuel and Andre Breton were pistol whipping offended patrons at the premiere of George Antheil’s “Ballet Mecanique.”
While I have yet to see patrons get beaten up at a Bill Ross opening, his most recent showing at the 1305 Gallery in Cincinnati was an arch typical atmosphere with Ross inhaling a countless number of martinis and engaging in giggling, slurred kitchen gossip about an acquainted patron’s propensity for group sex and, believe me, that elicited a sigh of relief in that Ross has refused to polish away his edge. Speaking only for myself, I would much rather engage in speculative talk about who may or may not engage in group sex over the aesthetics of painting on any given day, and even more so at a gallery opening.
Then, there is the work itself. In all of Ross’ work there is an underlining quality of twitchy desperation injected into this euphoric weirdness. Ross’ work is a bit like those early 20th century dance marathons that always began in the happy happy joy joy mode and inevitably ended in a perverse, frenzied, and torturous dance til you literally drop dead. To be certain, Ross’ work celebrates life, but he doesn’t encourage that, he demands it. Ross work reminds me of a Roselyn Bakery Cake symbolically come to life as dictator of the land. With its four inch think icing, you know it’s going to go down a delight that will eventually kill you with corroded arteries and the like, but, by God, it demands that you eat it and enjoy it, consequences be damned. Of course, one can substitute Roselyn Baker Cakes with any happy vice, which, in my case, happens to be coffee by the pot with a pack of Marlboro Lights.
My own personal favorite of Ross’ works is a canvas depicting his favorite theme of a blue monkey, which , here, feeds a banana to a bed-ridden skeleton. The disturbing, recurring theme of decapitated deer betray Ross’ origin of Indiana white trash, which he bear hugs with undying gratitude for having helped formed his freak flag. It is a flag he continues to fly high.
Ross and his militia of blue monkeys, octopi, possums, grizzly bears, kittens, and pancakes are a lot like those guilty pleasure vices. His art tastes damn fine and, even if it does kill you, at least you’ll die in a state of dizzied pleasure, not that you have any say so in the matter anyway.
* This is a first in a planned series of art reviews. Future reviews will include the art of Thunder-Sky artist Antonio Adams, along with UK Artist Ian Pyper, Michigan artist Mike Wrathell and Indiana artist Jan Scott Boyer.
3 thoughts on “BE HAPPY GODDAMMIT: THE ART OF BILL ROSS”
Oddly enough, I don’t think Bill ever did acid, but, he does down those martinis and still likes David Bowie.
Can I buy some acid from Bill, do you think?
If surrealism is about fantastic depictions and incongruous juxtapositions, then Bill Ross’ works fit the bill, though ‘slapstick’ they might be. I too find the canvas depicting a blue monkey attempting to feed a banana to a skeleton on bed quite winning. Pancake appears to be a leitmotif in his works. And liked your brilliant take on that: “Ross work reminds me of a Roselyn Bakery Cake symbolically come to life as dictator of the land. With its four inch think icing, you know it’s going to go down a delight that will eventually kill you with corroded arteries and the like, but, by God, it demands that you eat it and enjoy it, consequences be damned.”