Fred Ross, O.C., O.N.B., LL.D, R.C.A. – “The Yellow Dress”, 1967
The Art of Fred Ross, A Timeless Humanism by Tom Smart , published by Goose Lane Editions, 1993, illustrated on page 63.
Fred Ross‘ ”The Yellow Dress” (reproduced in Tom Smart’s The Art of Fred Ross, A Timeless Humanism, 1993 on pg. 63) is a painting of significance by one of the Maritimes’ foremost post WW ll artists, a gentleman who we have had the pleasure of representing for some 40 years now. Ross is a recipient of the Order of Canada and just last year the Order of New Brunswick. The Beaverbrook Gallery hosted an evening in his honour on June 3, 2009 in Saint John where their new Fred Ross acquisition ” Lady in Black”, was officially unveiled. Fred Ross paintings of the generation and quality of ”The Yellow Dress” are increasingly rare in the market place, especially at prices which are what one is asked to pay for paintings by artists who will not rate so much as a footnote in the annals of Canadian art history of the 21st Century. The reputation of Fred Ross is well documented and justifiably secure.
One Tuesday, June 2nd, Fred Ross’s “magnificent and mammoth new painting” (“The Lady in Black”), recently purchased from us by the Beaverbrook Gallery in Fredericton was formally unveiled at a gala held at the Saint John Convention Center attended by Lieutenant Governor Herménégilde Chiasson, the Honorable Shawn Graham, Premier of New Brunswick, Mr. Allison McCain, Chairman of the Beaverbrook Gallery Board of Governors and 700 guests. Tom Smart, executive director, CEO and president of the McMichael Canadian Art Foundation in Kleinburg, Ontario, contributed a marvelously written essay published in the Salon section of the Saint John’s ‘Telegraph Journal’ on Saturday, May 30, under the title “Fred Ross, taste and beauty for all time”. I encourage interested readers to look at the entire Salon supplement to that day’s paper, a 12-page section almost entirely dedicated to Fred Ross and various aspects of his career. Tom Smart’s closing paragraph reads as follows: “What is his place? Fred is the curious outsider and it is no wonder that when I conjure images of him I see him sitting on Rivera’s scaffold, communing with Bronzino, learning how to draw from Miller Brittain, hearing the forceful debates about the power of art to move societies, or tenderly asking a young dancer to sit quietly before his easel. His accomplishment is showing the capacity of figurative art to express the immensity of a human life. The distillation of the grand, timeless themes of humanity can be discerned in his depictions of the streets and people of his beloved Saint John.” (Mr. Smart is the author of a book published in 1993, “The Art of Fred Ross: A Timeless Humanism”.)
Briefly, Fred Ross was born on May 12, 1927, to a working class family in Saint John and by 1944 he elected to pursue his education at the Saint John Vocational School in the art program, a program which traditionally would have lead to the trade of commercial design. There he met Ted Campbell who was to become both his teacher and mentor, a man who Fred Ross acknowledges was tremendously able to stimulate students to develop their own talents. John Leroux, a contributor to the Salon supplement and art historian whose Masters thesis at Montreal’s Concordia University was on the subject of Fred Ross’s murals, wrote that “. . . Ross also remembers [Ted Campbell] having a genuine esteem for both contemporary and historical muralists in his classes: ‘Ted felt that the Mexican mural paintings were the greatest murals since the Renaissance so he was encouraging us to look at them.’ ” Ross claims that this set him on a course toward being an artist perhaps a painter of murals rather than toward the practice of commercial art.
Upon completion of two important murals undertaken for a year and a half and completed in 1948 Ross won a traveling scholarship and spent one month studying with Pablo O’Higgins, an American expat who had assisted Diego Rivera in some of his murals almost 20 years earlier. Fred Ross, in Mexico on a subsequent trip in 1950, did briefly meet with Rivera and, with the master’s permission, do some drawings of Rivera, drawings now in the collection of The National Gallery of Canada. In 1949 he had his first solo exhibition at Mount Alison University and from 1953 through 1970, Ross held a full-time position at the Saint John Vocational School teaching in the Department of Fine Art. In 1954 Ross married English ballet dancer and dance instructor Sheila Urquhart who was his greatest love, his muse, model, sometimes manager and mother of their three children. The Beaverbrook Gallery in Fredericton purchased its first Fred Ross painting entitled “Sheila in Blue” in 1955. The time line in the “Telegraph Journal” notes that in 1963 Ross was “the youngest artist featured in ‘Painting a Province’ a National Film Board documentary about the work of six New Brunswick artists. The same year, Ross’ “Lorna on a Rocking Horse” is featured in the ‘5th Biennial of Canadian Painting’ at the Commonwealth Institute in London.”
Fred Ross over the last 60 years has exhibited in more than 80 group and one-man exhibitions, several with us here at our gallery where he has been represented since 1969. He was one of the artists featured in Paul Duval’s book “High Realism in Canada” published in 1974. Now at age 82 temporarily confined to a wheelchair because of a recent fall, alone, that is to say without the love of his life, Sheila, who passed away 11 years ago, he is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, has received an honourary Doctorate of Laws from the University of New Brunswick, is a member of the Order of Canada and now the Order of New Brunswick. His greatest joy continues to be painting. This convalescence is a temporary obstacle. He regularly escapes from the nursing home, which he refers to as “Hotel California”, going to his studio where surrounded by his props and books and his important works in progress. (interview with Kate Wallace, Saint John Telegraph Journal, Saturday May 30, 2009 page Salon 6)
“Hats off ” to the Telegraph Journal for this truly outstanding newspaper supplement which I am told is a weekly feature. Clearly, this is not a significant revenue producing part of the paper. Insiders tell me that the credit for its existence is due to a passion for art by Mr. Jamie Irving, its publisher, and Member of the Board at the Beaverbrook Gallery in Fredericton, a fine gentleman to whom my wife & I were introduced at the Fred Ross Gala.