Robert Ross: "That Guy" in the Commons

Hamilton-Born Artist Paints Chateau Frontenac in Redeemer Commons

Alicia Wheatley

Who's that guy in the commons?

Maybe you've only seen him in passing, or maybe you've taken the time to chat with him about his work.

Meet Robert Ross, a Hamilton born artist. Ross is a full time acrylic realist landscape painter. Currently, he is doing a residence at Redeemer – meaning he's been commissioned to paint a landscape in the school. In fact, Ross often does paintings in public places. Perhaps if you have ever been to St. Joseph's Hospital downtown you've seen the large painting of the waterfall near Tim Hortons. He works on site with his paintings so that people can see the process over time. Ross is here until the end of this semester working on his piece.

 Meet Robert Ross, "That Guy" who is painting in the commons.

Meet Robert Ross, "That Guy" who is painting in the commons.

Ross originally studied architecture, something that comes in handy when he does paintings that include buildings. However, he found the fine art aspect of architectural design to be more enjoyable than the pipe planning and such. When Ross did his first art show in 1977 he was working part time at a factory. If the show didn't go well, he'd work more at the factory. To his surprise, the show went fantastically, and he has been a full time artist since.

Ross is an acrylic painter. When he began, acrylic was a newer kind of paint. It was ideal for painting realism because of its drying speed. Acrylic painting is a different kind of technique than oil, and it stands apart because of oil's toxicity. Painting at such large scales with oil paint wouldn't be allowed in public places.

Ross has done a large number of commissioned works in the nearly forty years he's been painting. St. Joseph's, for example, or a painting in the lobby of Mohawk College. The project he's working on is a commissioned piece to honour the 100th anniversary of the death of Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, a former president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, most famous for his overseeing the construction of the first Canadian transcontinental railway. A number of grand hotels were built along the railway, one of which is the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, exactly what Ross is depicting in his painting.

Ross says he's inspired by the beauty around us: God's wonderful creation. His mission is to focus on showing the beauty amidst all the chaos of the world, “bringing that beauty and sharing it.” He said he often finds people admiring his paintings of nature and thinks to himself, “well, I'm not the one who created it!”

During my time with Mr. Ross, I asked him a couple of questions about the art world – for example, what does he dislike about being an artist? Ross said he dislikes the lack of people who truly support the arts. Sure, there are a number of people that enjoy and appreciate the arts, but there are not enough people that invest in them. I asked how criticism plays a roll in his art making. Criticism is minor to Ross; real art criticism rarely happens, he says, and it's often just opinion as opposed to an objective observation.

You might be wondering how Ross works so well in a place that is so busy and chaotic. Well, Ross says the interruptions are comparatively rather minimal. Places like St Joseph's were much busier than Redeemer. Ross paints in public places for a reason: so that his process is visible and people can ask questions and chat. “Nobody should even think they're disturbing me; that's why I'm here,” he said.

So if you've got the slightest inkling of curiosity as you walk past, don't be afraid to approach Mr. Ross and ask him a few questions! And if you're wondering what he listens to on his CD Walkman, here's your answer: Ross listens to classical music for the most part, and sometimes Celtic music. He's “always liked classical music” and steers away from rock music because he says it is “the experience of being young ... and I'm not at that stage of life.”