Jeff Ross: He’s Big in Japan!

The openness (of the desert) is a plus, my ideas can run wild without tripping over curbs.

– Jeff Ross

By Katie Nartonis

For the past 12 years, artist Jeff Ross has been a nomad – traveling around the world with a long stop in Bangkok for 7 years, over a year in Serbia – and for the last year or so, he’s been living here in the high desert. As I write this article, Ross is on a plane flying to Japan for an extended visit to explore the recent renaissance of interest in his early prints simmering there in the land of the rising sun.

Ross spent 20 years in Seattle screen-printing posters for over 500 bands and Sub Pop Records. Always having loved show posters, he produced his own “Sub Pop Live At:” series. While collecting posters in 1977, he remembers seeing a blank spot at the bottom of the promotional posters – “Appearing At” so he lifted the idea and started making gig posters long before it was a fad.

“Starting with making flyers for my old punk rock band Blacklist in the early ‘80’s to the Seattle scene in the late’80’s and early ‘90’s. To the snowboard industry of the middle ‘90’s. And for 20 years wandering through the self-taught art world.”

Fast forward to his time in Bangkok. At a t-shirt EXPO, Ross was shown a book about Nirvana merchandise made in Tokyo. Looking through the book, all of his early Nirvana shirts were in it. The Tokyo connection was made. Ross notes that working with those clients, “I have made inroads to Japan. This month I will journey back to see everyone again.”

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Ross has been screen printing for over 30 years, and for him the goal has always been perfect registration, clean lines, and complete resolution. He now feels that his goal is working towards the beginning – using imagery that is torn, worn, and incomplete. Virtually printing without the use of any registration techniques and seeing what happens with every pull of the squeegee. Unique moments happening on the canvas and paper, accidents becoming purpose.

Ross describes his art as “reactionary abstraction.” The work happens without planning, studies, or sketching. “How the color and paint moves, my hand moves as a result. ‘Autoscript’ is what I call the mysterious writing/scribbles. Colors balancing with the shapes, and the overall balance in total. The actual motion of creating is what keeps me going forward.” The organic quality of his line reflects the inspired happenstance of the art process.

“I am a creator more than an artist. Everything around me is my inspiration.
Bits, pieces, snippets, sounds, and feel all contribute as triggers, reactions, ideas, and results.”

Ross continues to describe his work as “a product of where I am and what is at hand at the moment. Changing gears is a constant. I continually work on different types, formats and styles at the same time. Traveling around the world, taking the small roads, and seeking something new is the best source for my mind. Standing still or only making one kind of art is not an option. I am basically self-taught. Whatever I decided to learn, I just made my way through it. What you see in my work filtered through my travels, museum visits, art books, experiments, trial, error, and reckless abandon.” Ross has expanded his art process to include wall mural commissions and even colorful works on paper which are currently available at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center gift center.

Katie Nartonis is a writer, curator, art + design specialist and film maker. Her exhibit “Edwin + Lloyd” based on the founding of the Institute of Mentalphysics’ Retreat Center and the Lloyd Wright architectural treasures there is open 10am-5pm March 3, 4 and 5th. Her most recent documentary film “Jack Rogers Hopkins: California Design Maverick” premiered at the Palm Springs Art Museum Annenberg Theater during Palm Springs Modernism Week, 2023.

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