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In Depth with Ian Ross

Ian Ross

Subtitle: Hyper-Organic Art

By: Michael Keel

Photos By: Rob Evans


So who is Ian Ross and why did I choose to share Graffiti art with our readers? The simple answer equals dedication, originality, perseverance and imagery that makes your head spin back a few times. I can honestly say graffiti art is something I thought I would never be into. Through mutual friends Ian and I have come together, someone asked, “So you cover artists and travel articles for your writing? Do you know Ian in Mill Valley?” I Googled him, flipped through his portfolio and saw an artist with the humble face of determination, canvases full of color, tricky imagery and instantly Ian gained a new fan. He comes from Mill Valley, CA. He is a surfer, family man, loving husband and an artist.


Ross has always known he is an artist and has a clear memory of riding in the back of a station wagon on his way to kindergarten and realizing he looked at the world differently; he was an artist. His parents are both artists that ran a graphic design business from home before the computer age; so basically, he grew up in an art studio. Marin County, CA. influences his work the most. Ross constantly references patterns and forms in nature in a graffiti-style aesthetic.  The contrast of San Francisco’s urban density to the protected open spaces of Marin still fuels his inspiration to this day.

Ross describes his work as “Hyper-organic” and it’s primarily inspired by the act of painting in the moment without a plan and reacting to the composition as it evolves.  Ross says, “Painting ‘live’ for the last ten-plus years in front of an audience has helped my style progress.” During 2011 while he worked primarily from a studio at Facebook Headquarters in Palo Alto, CA., he was definitely influenced by the raw passion of David Choe. Ross also travelled to the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas to see Shepard Fairey’s largest public installation to date and then painted a mural in the hotel as well. In Miami this year during Art Basel,  Ross was lucky enough to meet Ron English, and see some canvases by SABER, Swoon, and Roa, to name a few. He was also extremely moved by the mural work of Os Gemeos, Jeff Soto, Kofie, Chor Boogie, and the list continues. Ross says, “But right now my favorite artists in the world are known as En Masse, and they hail from Montreal.”

The most important part about achieving your dreams and pushing through the rough patches is your work ethic. Ross says, “No matter what you are working on, or what has slowed you down, the only thing that will help the situation is to keep working. I tell this to everyone I can, and it’s a pretty simple formula.”  His ceramics professors in college taught him all that matters is hard work and when the going gets tough, keep working, don’t stop, and never give up.  Any true artist knows this, whether instinctually or from their own life experience.

Now that Ian is on the official road of being a successful artist, more business is involved and balancing everything is key. Ross says, “I hope I have handled this as well as possible!  I have found some of the most talented artists are often the worst with real world responsibilities, but these challenges are what make us professionals.  The most important thing you can do is listen to the people you care about, who care about you, and be flexible.” In the early days, Ross used to paint live four or five nights a week for free just to gain exposure. Any form of art requires constant promoting, hard-work and dedication. Facebook and social media are also crucial these days. Ross says, “Use social media, keep painting, and never give up!”

Ian’s style has evolved but remains exactly the same by way of his process. Ross says, “I paint without the burden of intention.” Meaning he really enjoys letting each painting find its own way, adjusting to the colors and composition as he goes. Ross’s work is very psychological and deep, and he believes all the forms and patterns that show up repeatedly, are referencing experiences in his life that affected his personality and his tastes.  Ross says, “I find that with each piece I paint, the conversation I am having with my work becomes more complex.”

By the time you have read this Ross will have already had a successful solo show in NYC. In the midst of all of these shows, he has a few other mural projects going on as well. He is also planning to open his own gallery/studio space in San Francisco this summer; so keep an eye out. Ross enjoys abstract subject matter and he feels that the mystery in a piece of art can be timeless and captivating.

Ross has painted all over the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, Las Vegas, LA, San Diego, NYC, Miami, London, Prague, Munich, and hopefully Hong Kong this year.  He really enjoys painting large scale murals that will be experienced by a high volume of people on a daily basis. Ross says, “I like to surprise the viewer, and then hopefully make them stop for a second to investigate my subject matter. I have some paintings hanging in the trees too.” 

Although Ross is riding the success horse right now, he still has quite a few goals ahead. He would love to paint a yacht for the America’s cup, the exterior of a very large building on Sunset Blvd., an old WWII fighter plane, and maybe another dance floor if possible. These are all projects that are somewhat in the works; but still a bit far off.  Ross’s next large scale project will be his outdoor mural in the SOMA district of San Francisco, that will be visible from the Bay Bridge. Ross says, “Besides that I am down for just about anything!”

Being a full time artist requires the ultimate sacrifice, I personally know this, from being a photographer/writer myself and people do not realize just how much artists have to bleed, sweat and cry through mountains of frustration; but the pay-off is well worth it. Not just the money, but the smiles, accomplishment, the gratification that you shared something positive with the world, or something that is a statement or piece of you.  Ross says “If you have another job you are not a full time artist. It’s extremely challenging, frustrating and more gratifying than I can possibly explain. I feel so very fortunate to be able to do what I love for a living, and my main goal in the near future is to help other artists do the same. Imagine what our world would be like if everyone enjoyed what they do for a living?!”

Ross’s art process moved from the canvas to the streets.  He doesn’t have a graffiti background; he has just been exposed to the art form for a very long time.  Ross is most inspired by the artwork he see’s on the street, so he is doing more and more murals these days.  Ross will always be growing as an artist, which is the most important part of the artist’s journey.  Ross says, “We should always find new ways to take risks, to challenge ourselves creatively, and hopefully continue to grow and evolve in the process.  There is nothing wrong with a little healthy competition; it keeps you on your toes!”  Ross’s most proud piece of work was painted over recently. It was next to the freeway in Marin CA., almost one million people a day drove by it.  Ross says “Now I would say my proudest piece is actually a body of work inside the Startup HQ co-working space on Harrison and 5th in San Francisco.  I did ten huge murals in eight days there last month.  One hundred hours of working time total.”  He is also extremely proud of everything he has done inside Facebook HQ and also the seventy foot mural at The Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas.

Ross recently got married to the love of his life (and his business manager) Daniele and they are planning on opening up their own gallery/studio/event space this summer in San Francisco.  Please follow ianrossart on Facebook, twitter, and instagram to stay informed.  They will be giving away art on a regular basis, raising money for charities that they support at each show, and teach classes in the space in various genres with numerous guest artists. For anyone reading this, please check Ian Ross’s work out online and please support artists and your community in any way you can.  Ian Ross would like to thank all of his supporters and anyone reading this article.





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