An Interactive Memoir
Jerry Ross, the Painter

Arts Activism


Most of this book so far has little information about my painting.  That is because up until this point in my life, my painting had been pretty much on the back burner .  I had painted some during my anti-war days in Buffalo, then again while living in Mexico.  Now that I was living in Eugene as a bachelor with free time on my hands, I gradually returned to some painting and began to hang out with painters from the graduate fine arts program at the University of Oregon: David Rich, Andy Johnson,

I had established a small studio that I rented behind a house on Oak Street, near downtown.  Here I would meet with David Rich and others.  I had canvases, oil paints, an easel and other supplies.  Sometimes I would salvage for materials in the dumpsters behind the U of O Art Department (Lawrence Hall) and obtain used canvases, stretchers, and such.  One needed to wait until the end of term when students were bailing out if their studios and lockers and there would be some good stuff just tossed out.

              Only a few works remain from this period.  Mike Phinney, my roommate on 14th Ave, has a few examples but I have no idea what they look like.  I assume they must have been pretty strange.  I was attempting to paint, reconnect to my childhood painting,   having forgotten almost everything I had been taught at the Art Institute of Buffalo.  Gradually it was returning,  I was remembering how to apply paint to canvas.



Abstract work by David Rich

              Another painting acquaintance in those days was Gary Buckendorf:

Gary was a grad student at the U of O and, like David Rich, had his own very individualistc take on things.  He was a strong painter in those days but was already moving onto film and experimental drawing.  Before he left Eugene for New York City, he was working on an Oregon beach series of drawings that were concerned with the fluidity of forms found at the ocean.  Very abstract and very beautiful.

Another artist friend from that period was Andy Johnson. He mostly worked up huge landscapes from photographs..  He was a strong painter and had identified a maket for his work.  At one point he agree to loan Angela and me a small, but significant amount of money (a few thousand dollars) for a down payment on a house in the same neighborhood where he lived and worked.  Thi enabled us to start an effort at house ownership which eventually got us in a much better situation than renting.  But Andy was engaged to a young woman from California and both were enthusiastic about Tibetan Buddhism.  After they married, they soon moved to California and I never heard from them again.  

The 1970s and 80s were active years for the visual arts in Eugene.  The Artist's Union was established on Willamette Street which later morphed into the New Zone Art Collective on High Street.  Most of this activity was spurred on by grad students and U of O professors.  I was a late comer and didn't get juried into New Zone until much later, when the synergy of the gallery was already starting to decline.  Nevertheless, there were many great members exhibits and its famed "Zone For All" when all comer's works were hung.  But the best were the "theme shows" when the member artists painted to some political theme and invited guest artists did the same.

I remember Mike Randalls' entry into the "Hearts and Minds" show.  A row of US Marines with their testicals hanging ighty low.  It was a great satire on the super-patriotic warrior.  His sculpting was very creaive and unique.  Randalls was a truly different character; he had been thrown out of the U of O MA Program for insubordination or something to that effect.  He had refused to play the academic game.

Like Mike, I have been somewhat of an artistic rebel.  One of the biggest visual arts exhibits in Eugene is the annual Mayor's Show, a prestigious show, very competitve and diffcult to get your work past its various juries.  One would get in one year only to be passed by for several years.  One year after being rejected when, at least in my own mind, I had a very strong entry, I decided to rebel.  I was in a sour mood after our siamese cat, Ruby, had been run over by a neighbhor speeding to a dental appointment.  I decided to plant an easle with my artwork in a public place just outside the exhibit's "gala opening."  When artists saw me doing this, some came out to talk to me.  I told them I was protesting the exhibit's "jury system" and that many of the jurors were gallery owners just pushing the work of their participating artists, a self-servicing affair disguised as a democratic process.  I called for a counter-exhibit, a "salon des refuses" and told them I would be looking for a building downtown where we coud hold the counter exhibit in the next few days.  I was just blowing hot air at that time, having no idea if I could really pull it off.  Nevertheless, the artists talking to me were excited at the prospect of showing their work, having also been rejected.

Angela walked around towntown Eugene the following day and came upon a"steelhead Brewery" building with a vacant upper level.  We inquired with the owner and explained the situation.  To our surprise the owners agreed to allow us to use he space for the art show just as long as we secured liability insurance.  We scrambled to do just that and before we knew what was happening, the Salon des Refuses of Eugene was born.  One of the artists who was interested in helping out was Steve LaRiccia, a photographer, who was handy with tools and had an idea of how the space could be utilized.  I was working full-time at the Regional Information System (RIS) a few blocks away so I was willing for Steve to take the lead in getting the show ready. 

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Me on far right, Steve in background, center.                   One of the many Refuse exhibit locations: New Zone on High Street

 Unfortunately as things would work out later, Steve had a very controlling type of personality and soon was trying to call all the shots.  This didn't happen right away.  At first things were being decided democratically and very spontaneously.  In later years (the Eugene Salon went on for another twenty something years as a show countering the offical Mayor's show) Steve completely took over the operation of the event.  We were in Italy and, to his credit, Steve kept the event alive.

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Unknown refuse artist, with anti-jury gesture

  The Salon des Refuse "movement"  that I initiated turned out to be a boon for my art career namely because of several significant reviews of works of mine that were rejected from the annual Mayor's show.  One in particular is worth mentioning:  "Arrival in Bologna" which was reviewed by Sylvie Pederson, Art Critic ( Eugene Eugene Weekly 2005):


Arrivi a Bologna


Angela and I organized a meeting at our house on Onyx Street.  This was a follow up after I won a "lunch with the Mayor" after winning the "Mayor's Choice" award one year.  The Mayor had selected "La Mamma" which had reminded him of his mother.  The Mayor was Jim Torey, a liberal Republican, who, as it turned out, did a lot to help artists like myself.  I had lunch with Jim at the Train Station downtown but didn't eat much because we were talking together the whole time.

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"La Mamma"                                                                                                           La Mamma bookmark

The story as Jim Torey told it was that whe he was a young boy he wasb traveling with an Afro-American friend and his mother in eastern Oregn and when they crossed into Idaho they stopped at a cafe.  The owner of this cafe refused to serve the black friend.  Jim remembered the body language of his mother who refused to allow this act of discrimination and her determination to force the owner to honor the civil rights of the young child.  Apparently she succeeded and they were all served.  But he never forgot that moment.

But we also talked about the need, in Eugene, for a non-profit art center in the downtown area.  I had a vision of a City of Eugene Art Museum that would have a different mission from the State-run University of Oregon Art Museum which has been renamed "the Gordon Schnitzer Museum of Art."   As an aside: when the University and State officials recently "renovated" the museum to allow for larger exhibits and display of the Schitzer personal collection of Warhole photos and "paintings" (mostly silkscreened photos that had been edited with earlier versions of Photoshop-like software), they jack-hammered the beautiful marble staircase into oblivion and moved the much loved Indian Princess sculpture into an obscure location.  Anyway, we talked about the City participating in such an effort.

And so not long after that lunch,  Angela and I called for an organizational meeting at our house.  As I recall the City Manager and City Parks official attended as did the Mayor.  Carolyn Kranzler (shown marching in the photo above) attended as did other prominent figures in the Eugene art scene.  During the discussion, most of those attending agreed to continue to meet and work towards a downtown art center.  Meetings did contiinue and eventually the effort morphed into DIVA (the Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts).