VAULT speaks to artist Sally Ross, about why genre painting can breed creative possibility and the pleasure of bringing small details to life.
Sally Ross is a fan of keeping a little distance. Earlier this year, the Melbourne-based artist, whose landscapes and portraits imbue the well-worn tropes of genre painting with a quality that’s coolly, thrillingly mystical, sat down to paint the artists Will and Garrett Huxley for the 2018 Archibald Prize. She asked them to “look dead”.
“I’m really interested in Otto Dix’s portraits, because he was obsessed with this idea of antiquity and how it informs what we do now,” she says. “I wanted the portrait to be sphinx-like. I didn’t want to see any expression in their eyes. If you look at the tradition of painting, there’s never been the assumption that [the medium] can fully encapsulate anything. A lot of my students try to confidently explain the meaning of something, but actually I think that a lot of cool shit in life is quite mysterious.” A mischievous smile flits across her face. “In a performance at the Melbourne Fringe last year, The Huxleys said the lines, ‘Everything happens for no reason.’ I find that terribly comforting.”
Ross, 49, is wearing a violet shirt with a Nehru collar and sunglasses with reflective lenses. She’s just arrived in Sydney from Melbourne and says she nearly missed her plane after falling down a wormhole involving Georgian needlepoints and something called a “lustre plate”. Ross pulls out her smartphone to show me photos. In person, the artist possesses none of the chilly remove of her subjects. She’s a self-described “hugger”. She exudes a friendly curiosity. She has that disarming ability to toggle between topics and idioms. It feels perfectly natural to hear her describe... Subscribe to read this article in full
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