UP5 Preview - The Iconic Humanism of Bob Ross

Written by Claire Carvounis

Four tulips sit in a vase on my windowsill bobbing from the rush of the M train rattling by outside. I stare at them now that I work from home and find myself sketching them when I need a break from clicking and typing. Evolutionary human instincts within us, that stir a desire to be a part of something more whole, push me to peer into the center of the flower, away from the world at large. Tiny flecks of pollen coat the bottom of the petals that lift high into my vision. My glasses bump the delicate scene, like a fish at the edge of its bowl, and I return back to my computer, glancing out my window briefly to think of what I know lies beyond.

This feeling of being absorbed into a universe that was always right below your nose is the same as being pulled into the orbit of the soft-spoken painter, Bob Ross, and the etching sounds of scraped paint that help us build small worlds of our own.

There is something iconic about a sunset. Or a sunrise. Or a mountain towering up into the sky, powdered white in its peaks, behind stalks of bushy pine trees and a lake spilling out in the middle of it all. Bob Ross harnesses these natural icons, as painters throughout history have continually done, but makes these feats attainable to us, mere humans, trying to bottle what willfully fights to be contained.

This focus we humans have on depicting what is known as well as unknown does not surprise me. We have been painting on caves, first actual then metaphorical, trying to capture what we find most fascinating: motion. It was depicted in the game of the hunt, stick figures throwing arrows at beasts; the smooth limbs of sculptural bodies, defying gravity in mythology; feathers sprouted from headdresses meant to be seen as blurs of color. We grew, moved away from ourselves, and saw the motion of nature: the claw like curls of waves, the repeating patterns of the night sky, even the thick, golden light that either shone to illuminate or muddle the earth in shadows. Motion followed us so closely we forgot it was there.

“People continually say, ‘I don’t have the talent to do what you’re doing.’ That’s baloney. Talent is a pursued interest. In other words, anything you’re willing to practice, you can do. And this is no exception.” (s2 ep1)

I played an episode of The Joy of Painting to jog my memory and hopefully get me writing. It was late at night because I have poor time management and a terrible sense of priorities, so naturally Bob Ross’s voice lulled me quickly and smoothly into sleep. Even as I drifted, though, the thought of motion paced through my mind as I listened to his brush swishing over the canvas. Fast, decisive, yet not fully planned strokes that made me think one thing: This is it.



T.K. Mills is the Editor-in-Chief of UP Magazine, a street art publication based in New York City. After receiving a Master’s Degree in Global Affairs, he discovered a love for graffiti while backpacking through Cuba and pursued life as a writer. Outside of UP,  T.K. enjoys writing poetry, personal travel essays, and occasionally short stories. His work has been published in The Smart SetThe Vignette ReviewGenre Urban Arts, and Eternal Remedy among others. Beyond art, T.K. loves reading and traveling.