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Sally Ross

Studio Visit

14th December, 2012
Lucy Feagins
Friday 14th December 2012

The home studio of Melbourne artist Sally Ross.  Photo - Sean Fennessy

No shortage of reference material in Sally's studio!  Photo - Sean Fennessy

Studio details.  Photo - Sean Fennessy
Purple Mountains, 2012, oil on linen, 100 x 80 cm.  From Sally Ross' current exhibition at Murray White Room in Melbourne.
Lady, 2012, oil on linen, 65 x 55 cm.  From Sally Ross' current exhibition at Murray White Room in Melbourne.
Sally Ross in her Melbourne studio.  Photo - Sean Fennessy

In the manic blur that was The Design Files Open House, I met artist Sally Ross. She had come along with her sister, who mentioned Sally had an exhibition coming up at Murray White Room in Melbourne, and thrust a small postcard-style flyer in my hand.

Now I must admit, I received a LOT of random in-person pitches at Open House, which I am not really used to, and I have to say my brain was in such a chaotic spin for most of the weekend that I got a bit overwhelmed and didn't pounce on any of them urgently! (Sorry, sorry - I'll get round to it!). But Sally was different. After seeing only this small image from her show, somehow I knew that this was one I had to follow up!

Her new landscape pictures are so so beautiful. There's something kind of dark and unexpected about them - the deep blue / green colour palette, and layered swirling patterns seem at once contemporary and old fashioned, flat and dimensional, abstract and figurative.

As is evident in these beautiful pics of Sally's Elwood home studio (thankyou SEAN!), Sally relies heavily on found imagery, photographs, books and archives when creating her work. These reference materials are compulsively collected, tagged and referred back to, as Sally works across multiple canvases simultaneously, each taking weeks and sometimes months to complete.

Sally Ross is a proper old fashioned artist. She spent many years in Paris, working, studying and painting, before returning to Melbourne eight years ago to focus on her practise whilst raising a family. She still regularly exhibits in both Melbourne and Paris, and the US. Her work is represented in public and private collections both at home and internationally, including recent acquisitions by Artbank, the National Gallery of Victoria and the Geelong Gallery.

If you're in Melbourne this week you should TOTALLY check out Sally's current show at Murray White Room in the city, it's on until next Saturday December 22nd.

New paintings by Sally Ross
Until 22nd December, 2012

Murray White Room
Sargood Lane (off exhibition street)

Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to becoming a fine artist, and to creating the style of work you are currently making?

My background is art art art – I studied Fine Art here in Melbourne and in France and have been an artist as well as working in galleries and museums for over 25 years. In kindergarten I was allowed to keep on painting when everyone else packed up, and I have been obsessed ever since.

The paintings I am currently making are a distillation of everything I have seen, thought and shouldn’t be thinking.

You spent eight years in France studying, working and painting, before returning to Melbourne permanently. How has your time spent abroad influenced your practise, and how have you found settling back into life and work in sleepy, lovely Melbourne!?

I returned to Melbourne about eight years ago now – but I get back to Europe regularly for my shows in Paris, and I always make time for art-viewing binges – highlights were the new vast Palais de Tokyo, Paris and the Prado, Madrid. I think that living overseas was fundamental in my ongoing education, getting a broader direct experience of past and present art, other perspectives and possibilities – language, history, theatre, decorative arts etc.

Returning to sleepy, lovely Melbourne allows me to focus fully on my own work.

What can we expect to see in your current show at Murray White Room? What has inspired this body of work?

The exhibition at Murray White Room has moors, rolling hills, trees and portraiture. But I am starting to disrupt the picturesque, there is more of a tension between the abstract and representational, lots of snaky masses of greens, blues and endless marks on the canvas.

As with much of my work the point of departure for this show was material that I scrounged in op shops or bottom shelf antique stores and auction houses, which this time included a mass of Scottish miniature postcards (I think they are actually cigarette cards) and some books on Japan from the 1940s.

Forest, 2012, oil on linen, 100 x 80 cm.  From Sally Ross' current exhibition at Murray White Room in Melbourne.
Can you give us a little insight into your process? What materials do you use, is each work pre-planned or created very intuitively? How do you begin a new work, do you work on multiple canvases at one time, and how long does each work take to complete?

My process is simple – found photograph, composition drawing, then paint (Lukas oil paints on linen).

When I find an image I wish to paint, a sort of recognition takes place and then I just do it. The actual painting is time-consuming, tuning up the image always seem to require further detail, more observation. A work can take from weeks to many months to complete. I do work on several canvases at once, they tend to feed off each other.

There is a seemingly endless supply of images waiting to be painted. Part of my work seems to be controlling that oversupply, that overstimulation.

Studio details.  Photo - Sean Fennessy
What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Early start, coffee, children, school, shooting the breeze at my local café before closing myself away in my very petite studio and getting on with it. Usual afternoon delights, domestic interruptions and then back to work after dinner until late. I have to force myself to go to sleep at a reasonable/unreasonable hour so that I can be operational next day.

Work in progress.  Photo - Sean Fennessy
Which resources, across any media, do you turn to regularly for creative inspiration?

I love any stinky old books, dodgy colour reproductions, postcards, old photos.

I look at various contemporary art websites from slick NOWNESS, and Contemporary Art Daily to museums and art projects all over the world, for instance Grayson Perry’s tomb to the unknown craftsman was extraordinary. Carol Bove, David Altmejd are doing great stuff so I just google them.

Library photo archives like The British Museum, National Library of Autralia  and State Library of Victoria.

Reference material.  Photo - Sean Fennessy
Which other local artists, designers or creative people are you liking at the moment?

Just saw an amazing series of collages by Alasdair McLuckie.

Nell is an artistic force – her happy turd sculptures, neons, dripping noses, performances and her 21st century take on the spiritual via rock n’roll.

Eliza Hutchison’s Hair in the Gate show at CCP this year was nothing short of a triumph.

Saw a pretty sophisticated steel and leather sculpture by young artist from VCA Klara Fletcher – I suspect she will be one to watch.

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

This year was a tough one so I would have to say I am pretty proud of this exhibition at Murray’s.

What would be your dream project?

A big forest painting for a public project

What are you looking forward to?

Painting Polly Borland. Doing a new private commission of works for an architectural project here in Victoria. Hopefully doing more paintings for Meacham Nockles McQualter projects in the US, Europe and Asia. Doing that dream big forest painting.

My work will be at ArtBasel Hong Kong in May in the main section so that is pretty exciting too.

I am looking forward to seeing all the new pictures I am going to do.

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

St Kilda – wrong side of the river now but I love Baker, the sea baths, Bookhouse etc.

Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools of your trade?

Chapman and Bailey, Senior Art Supplies and quite a lot of op shops.

Where / what was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Do two Tamarind Margaritas at Colonel Tan’s count as a meal?

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Must be kept secret! Vive la discrétion...

Studio details.  Photo - Sean Fennessy

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email