An Interactive Memoir
Jerry Ross, the Painter

Ch6: Evolution of a Painting Style


After many years of working at painting, I have evolved a unique painting style that accomodates both modernism and classical appraches to the art.  Although conceptual art is the current trend, my style is closer to atelier realism but with significant differences that, in my way of thinking, put it into a unique category.

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In this portrait of Angela, my work finally attained a level that I had been seeking, halfway between realism and abstraction and completely unique in its approach to portraiture.  For a long time my work has centered mostly on portrature, often considered the highest manifestation of painting.  But portraiture can exist on so many levels.  

I write this section of the book while in Rome where Angela and I have just seen the blockbuster Tiziano (Titian) show at the Qirinale.  


Titian's portraiture stands out as one one the greatest achievements in portraiture.  But if one wanders into the Piazza Navona today which is supposedly where artists sell their work tourists, there are only caricaturists and schlock vendors.  The art seeking public seems to exist on many levels, most highly degraded and, along with sensitivities to beauty and craft, quite different from the ideal.

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Portrait of Umberto Coromaldi, oil on cardboard

This section is about the evolution of my painting style.  This can be summed up by an artists statement:

"American verismo", a movement that I have recently founded, is a catch-all phrase for an artistic style that draws its main inspiration from Italian art, both classical and modern.  There is an implied nostalgia for work done “dal vero” (after life) whether classical (Raphael, Rubens, or Caravaggio, etc.) or 19th century (the Tuscan I Macchiaioli school) or more contemporary.  
Verismo is somewhat akin to contemporary “atelier realism” but the latter has been criticized for an academic uniformity and its over attention to details.  American verismo is more poetic and linked to post-impressionism, the Milan-based Scapigliatura (‘wild hair’) movement, and the I Machiaioli’s commitment to social issues.  But like atelier realism, American verismo is associated with a painterly sketching style, use of broad brushstrokes, and the alla prima, “direct attack” technique of painting. It is also linked to all'aperto (open air) impressionist-style landscape painting. In short, to pleinairism which has become widely popular in recent years. "

Since childhood, I have always been painting instinctively in a "verismo" , loose-brush style but did not know of the I Macchiaioli until relatively recently.  Thanks to my brief study with Toni sisti in Buffalo, I began to use more paint and to paint more loosely.  Around ten years ago I was prowling in the stacks at the U of Oegon Art Library and came across two good books on the I Macchiaioli.  I was interested but it did not really sink in until, on one of our  trips to Italy (we have been going there for 22 years now!), we were able to see some blockbuster style Macchiaoli exhibits.  

The fascination with Italian art has been a strong and constant influence.  Since I practically haunted the U of O Art Library,  I was able to become familiar with German, Dutch, Russian, and all manner of painting.  But on trips to Rome and Milan, in particular, we saw shows on Caravaggio, Titian, Giorgione, Fra Angelica, etc. that blew us away.  On our most recent trip to Rome, we saw both a great Titain show and got to the Museum of Modern Art in Rome which has a stupendous collection.  As I told Angela, just being able to study these works for a few days was, in my opinion, worth several years in an art school.

But to discuss my own style, it will be best to work from examples:


Bambina innocente

The innocent face of a young child looks out to the contemporary world and its concomitant chaos, rapid changes, abusive language, etc.  The yellow background casts the portrait into a positive and hopeful light which also plays over the face and shirt.  There is a look of bewilderment but also of inner strength and determination.

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Here a young girl displays a complex expression as if she were deep in thoughts or reliving some past experience.  Her face is serious and at the same time philosophical, reflective.  An open newspaper symbolizes the external world while the mirtilli (blueberries) symbolize a comfort food, a pathway away from past traumas or memories.  Her italian yellow " nido d'ape" (bee's nest) towel shows a sense of style and worldliness.  Her  hand covers herself as her blouse has slipped down from her shoulder but she remains transfixed, here but not here.

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Portrait of " una vecchio donna italiano" -- a citizen of Tuscany near Montepulciano.   The painting is large and has a wonderful forceful beauty when exhibited in a room. The colors are those of Tuscany and were taken from the actual walls where the sitter lives. The face reveals both anger, frustration, and the pain of getting old and infirm but, especially through the eyes, a tenderness and wisdom that comes from age. I am especially interested in the older generation. Their faces often reveal a lot about the human condition, both our frailness and vulnerability but also our humanity.