Pushing Our Perceived Boundaries

The very nature of art is designed to stir our thinking, expand our knowledge, move us to question our surroundings, and push the edges of our perceived boundaries. It has always, and will always, make us rethink and relearn what we know, at the same time challenging us to think more and learn more. Art introduces us to the unknown and reminds us of the forgotten. It celebrates historic figures, both famous and ‘lost.’ For an artist, it means having the inner passion and commitment to stay true to what stirs them, what inspires them, and what keeps their artistic voice clear. Even when others might not understand that passion or that commitment.

Thom Ross has been painting what he’s passionate about for decades. Sometimes people like it, sometimes they don’t. But he has stayed true to what “gives me the chills” and the rest of us just try to keep up! For Thom, little-known, unknown, and even misunderstood historical figures, fuel his love for storytelling and painting. His excitement is also kindled by literary figures, as they combine accounts of true daring and bravery with fictional exploits. Refusing to confine himself, he explores cultures, locations, time periods, and events, researching heroes, legends, explorers, and pioneers and how they’re remembered or depicted in both literature and movies … all the while pushing us to think more and learn more.

“Why should I paint something that you already know of?  My job, as I have defined it for myself, is to constantly search for things that are out there that no one has found … to find what’s out there and present it in a way that is new for YOU!”   Thom Ross

Thom’s paintings may depict a Confederate general in his red hunting shirt which he was known to wear in battle; an army scout/lawman/cowboy/detective/assassin who was known to stalk his victims from a distance using binoculars; a group of Native Americans eating slices of cake; a famous gunwoman prepping for a famous trick shot; a well-known outlaw performing a ballet-like dance; a Native American riding a horse colored like the American flag. In each of these cases, the subject is inspired by a real-life person. When inspired by a literary character, his commitment to the story often means he’s able to quote passages from memory. Over the years, he’s also created large-scale installations depicting epic battles and scenes from long-forgotten historic photographs.

“People do not know what to do with this sort of stuff.  They often want that which is comfortable to them … something that they can relate to because there is something there that they CAN relate to. But that is not the job of an artist or of art. — Thom Ross

Each time Thom creates a new painting, he writes a narrative to accompany it … giving us insights into the inspiration behind the piece. These narratives not only give a bit of backstory but are also thought-provoking as they uncover details we may never have known about a subject. They may even move us to do some research on our own, filling in the gaps of what we thought we knew, getting us to rethink that slice of history and how it relates to us today … pushing our perceived boundaries.


AP Hill and His Red Battle Shirt

“Ambrose Powell Hill (1825 – 1865) was born in Culpepper, Virginia, and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1847 (ranked 15th out of his class of 38). He would see action in both the Seminole War and the Mexican War. According to his wishes, he was buried “standing up” and his body rests beneath the monument to his memory in Richmond, Virginia. Hill’s wife Kitty, made him red calico hunting shirts which he wore into battle (very similar to Caesar wearing red robes in his battles). I have always been fascinated by that because one would think that a soldier would do ANYTHING to avoid drawing attention to himself … but not A.P. Hill.”

American Horse

“A play on the visual horse you see which appears as an American flag, and two famous Indians who were both named American Horse. One of these men fought at the Little Big Horn (June 25, 1876) and was killed at the Battle of Slim Buttes later that year (September 1876). The other American Horse became a delegate to Washington DC and sought peace for his people in the West.

The interesting thing here is that right after I drew out the figures, and as I was beginning to ponder HOW I wanted to paint this rider and horse, I heard a voice in my head which said merely, “American horse.” This had not been my intention but once having heard the whisper in my ear, I said, “OK!  American horse it is!”

Tom Horn

“Tom Horn (1860 – 1903) was an army scout, lawman, cowboy, detective, and assassin. Horn was well known in the West, having participated in the campaign, and capture, of Geronimo. He eventually wound up in Wyoming where he became a stock detective for the Cattleman’s Association where he often had to deal with sheepmen, the arch-enemy of cattlemen. His most infamous deed was the killing of 14-year-old, Willie Nickell, the son of a sheepherder. He was put on trial for the murder and although the Cattleman’s Association put up a lot of money for his defense, they also knew that Horn was keenly aware of the crimes that the Association had been guilty of. The Cattlemen knew this and so although they raised money for Horn, to them he had become expendable. If he was hung they would breathe a sigh of relief. Found guilty of the murder of young Willie Nickell, Horn was strung up in Cheyenne, WY, on Nov. 20. 1903.

Horn used to scout out his victims from a distance, using binoculars to watch their moves. The idea behind this painting is that you, the viewer, are his next victim! If this was hung on an all-white wall it would look like Horn was sitting right outside your window, watching you!”

Indians Eating Calhoun’s Cake

“Per his request, Lt. James Calhoun’s wife, Margaret Emma Custer Calhoun, sent her husband a cake, apparently a large cake. Calhoun had announced that after the fight every officer would get a slice. She likely sent the cake by steamboat from Fort Lincoln to the Powder River base camp as there seems to be no other way he could have received it. Instead of eating his cake while it was reasonably fresh, Lt. Calhoun either tied the cake to his saddle or had it packed on a mule. One way or another he brought it to the Little Bighorn so that he and his comrades might celebrate the defeat of Sitting Bull. However, no more is heard of Lt. Calhoun’s cake. If it traveled on the pack train it may have been eaten by members of the Reno battalion during the two days that they were surrounded; but if he attached it to his saddle it must have vanished from the battlefield, which suggests that a party of Sioux or Cheyenne found something quite unexpected. The image of half a dozen warriors squatting around eating the lieutenant’s cake is not easy to forget.”

Hat Dance

“In 1938 Lincoln Ellsworth commissioned Aaron Copland to create a ballet based on the legend of Billy the Kid. The choreography was done by Eugene Loring and it is still being danced today. The libretto for the ballet is inspired but it is not based on historical events. However, there was a gunfight at a place called Blazer’s Mill (about 2 hours from Santa Fe) in which two men were killed, Andrew “Buckshot” Roberts and Dick Brewer. This gunfight took place on April 5, 1878. A year and a half later a posse of lawmen led by Pat Garrett captured Billy. On their way back toward Las Vegas, NM, they spent the night at Blazer’s Mill. The lawmen asked Billy about the gunfight and apparently, Billy stood up, handcuffed and unarmed, and did a pantomime of the gunfight, using his hands like they were pistols as little kids do, with the index finger as the barrel and the thumb as the gun’s hammer. Billy basically did a type of performance dance for the lawmen. So I decided to combine these two things, the dance (ballet) but use it to tell the true story of Billy’s short, and ill-fated career as an outlaw. This is the first in a series, with each scene being danced as if in a theater. In “Hat Dance” you can see the spotlight shining down from above Billy’s head.” 



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