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 Thom Ross  (1953 - )

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Lived/Active: Wyoming/New Mexico/California      Known for: mod historical western genre and figure painting

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Ad Code: 3
Thom Ross
from Auction House Records.
It Went up with a BANG!
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A painter, usually in acrylic, of iconic western figures including cowboys, Indians and white-male shoot-em-up villains, Thom Ross is dedicated to "historical ghosts", that is depicting events of frontier American history such as The Alamo and Custer's Last Stand in a way that cuts through mythology and shows underlying realism.   He is bored by the traditional images of heroes and unlikely feats or accomplishments, and is dedicated to keeping American history alive---as it really happened.  When he is not at his easel, he is reading books from which he gets ideas for more paintings.

Many of his pieces are humorous such as his Indians Playing Pingpong, which shows men in full feather headdresses having fun at a light-hearted game instead of the stock image of them aiming bows and arrows at white frontier settlers.   Another painting, It Went Up With a BANG, shows Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid surrounded by flying dollar bills after a robbery with dynamite went awry.

Thom Ross grew up in Sausalito and was much taken with westerns he saw on television such as Wyatt Earp.  He studied art at California State University in Chico.  At age 23, he left Marin County, and went to South Dakota to the scene of the Battle of Little Bighorn and the centennial celebration of that event.  He began asking himself questions about truth vs. propaganda or assumed truths and set out to create paintings that revealed 'what likely happened'.  He says "you cannot explain historical events that have passed into our own mythology strictly in terms of what happened.  Instead they must be examined through a metaphysical microscope: What is the meaning of the Alamo?  Of Wyatt Earp? Of the OK Corral?"

After marrying and living several places including Burlington, Vermont and Palm Springs, California, Thom Ross and his family settled in Seattle, Washington.  Working as a waiter to support his family, he showed samples of his work to a customer, who, in turn, connected him with a gallery.  The owner signed him on immediately and Ross's career as a fine-art painter took off.

In 2002, he received an honor, which was a commission to illustrate the centennial edition of The Virginian by Owen Wister.  For that project he did many color paintings and 35 woodcuts for the chapter headings.  Ross has also written and illustrated a book, Gunfight at the OK Corral.  Another project has been a baseball-themed mural for Safeco Field, the Seattle Mariners' ballpark.  For this, he did eleven steel cutouts of players in a victory mode.

His largest project was 200 plywood cutouts for the recreation of the Battle of Little Bighorn in 2005 to commemorate the 129th Anniversary.  Proudly he says:  "I was the first guy that ever had an art opening on the Custer battlefield."  As of 2006, his next planned project is a panoramic scene of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in 1902, when the Show with 102 Indians gathered along the San Francisco waterfront in an area that is now part of the Golden Gate Recreation park.  He is creating tall figures, most of them over six feet in height.   The images are intended to stimulate dialogue, and to orient viewers to the meanings of the real people behind the events.

Joan Brown, "Thom Ross: Breathing New Life into the Old West", Wildlife Art, May/June 2006, pp. 66-70

Biography from Due West Gallery:
“In Sausalito, where I grew up, there wasn’t a cowboy or Indian to be seen. Still I wanted Wyatt Earp, as Hugh O’Brian played him on TV to be my dad. How was I to know that all those shows were fictional?”

This lack of real life cowboys or Indians in Ross’ youth has been more than compensated for by his art which depicts the historical folk heroes of the American West in a unique context. Thom’s art challenges the viewer to re- analyze what he or she knows about history or what he or she thinks they know about history. Indians playing golf, ping-pong, croquet; General Custer riding off while balancing a table on his head; Sheriff Pat Garrett standing with shotgun in hands bracing against the cold of a wintry New Mexico morning – these are a few of the startling images depicted in Ross’ paintings.

Besides creating reactions of wonder in the viewer, Thom’s goal is to contemporize classic Western events and characters from a sometimes ill remembered or misinterpreted past by his use of vivid colors, abstract shapes, and a modern flair.
Although Thom’s love and knowledge of historical characters and events is deep, he prefers to paint them with a liveliness, spontaneity, and fresh approach rarely exhibited in traditional Western art. As a result, the viewer can more easily re- examine these characters and events, often leading to an “interpretation” or “meaning” that is more fluid and consequently, more complex.

An excellent raconteur of stories and lore often depicting footnote yet fascinating events in our history, Thom’s passion for his subject matter and his work is self- evident. Environmental installations, which have always been important elements in Thom’s work, are glowing examples of this passion. He recently painstakingly recreated two historical events – The Battle of the Little Big Horn and Buffalo Bill’s 1902 visit to Ocean Beach in San Francisco -- by creating life size figures of hundreds of the original participants and placing them in historically accurate positions and locations.

Ross’ work is in private and public collections throughout the United States. Thom currently creates where he lives, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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