St’artUp 317 is a competitive program that aims to match young brands, established businesses wanting to test a new market, startups and artists, with vacant and under-utilized first floor commercial space in downtown neighborhoods to create pop-up stores. Inspired by similar initiatives across the country St’artUp 317 is being coordinated by Downtown Indy, Inc in partnership with PATTERN in order to incubate viable retail businesses and long-term tenants, while supporting the creative class and improving the cultural profile of our city. The long-term goal of the program is to eliminate empty storefronts, increase local and visitor consumer spending and ensure that the Downtown neighborhoods continue thriving.
This series of stories highlights artists, entrepreneurs and businesses that were selected to participate in the pilot of St’ArtUp 317.
John Ross, a painter and sculptor originally from Washington, Indiana, had quite the unorthodox journey to becoming the artist he is today. A business owner until the age of 46, Ross decided to sell his businesses—the Vogue in Broad Ripple and The Bluebird nightclub in Bloomington—and enroll at the Herron School of Art and Design to explore the art of painting and sculpture.
It wasn’t until about three years ago that he started working with wooden sculptures, using various sizes of chainsaws to create raw and unrefined pieces that speak entirely for themselves. Some of this woodwork is currently featured in the Carson’s window displays in downtown Indianapolis. The pieces, which range from smaller busts of interesting faces to full-sized sculptures of various people, aim to invite the viewer to question the intricacies and vanity of humanity.
“Ultimately, I’d like people to connect with my work and respond to it, to be able to see something there that they can relate to,” he says. “For me, the purpose of art is to make a connection. You might find it interesting, informative, or totally off the wall.”
A more notable piece featured in his window display during the month of May is his more politically-driven piece entitled “Donocchio,” a Donald Trump sculpture with a Pinocchio nose. Although he says he generally steers clear of political art—he thinks it’s too easy a subject—he maintains that he wants his viewers to make their own judgments based on what the sculptures convey to them.
While he finds inspiration from all types of artists, often flipping through various art history books he keeps in his studio, the artist he references the most when working with wooden sculptures is German painter and sculptor, Georg Baselitz. The massive wooden sculptures done by Baselitz served as the catalyst in Ross’ decision to explore sculpture woodwork, and inspired him to use chainsaws as an art tool.
“I just thought they were really cool and primitive,” he says. “He doesn’t finish them very finely. He likes them kind of rough. Some of his work is around 10ft tall, and I just thought they were amazing.”
Much of Ross’ work features close-up busts of various faces he finds interesting. He describes his process as an evolving method, where he continues working until he gets to a point of finality and finds something in the faces he was looking for. The faces displayed in the Carson’s windows focus mostly on human insecurities and vanity. One bust depicting a woman with a big bun on the top of her head is entitled “Tell me I’m pretty,” another of a man called “Problems with intimacy.” For Ross, the challenge of working with wood is his favorite part, as he enjoys the activity and vigor of the art form.
“When I got out of running a business, I wanted to find a new challenge and I thought art was something I’ll never master,” Ross says. “I wanted a lifetime challenge, and I got what I bargained for.”
You can follow along with Ross’ work on his website, or find his Carson’s window display in downtown Indianapolis near the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument during the month of May.