Over the weeks of lockdown, BBC4 has been running a series of programmes called The Joy of Painting featuring the late American artist, Bob Ross. Bob and his art were new to me, though not apparently to many others. If you know the programmes, which were first broadcast in the 1980s and 1990s, you will know that Bob sports an Afro hairstyle and speaks with a gentle American accent, which welcomes you politely to the programme. He has certain soothing catch phrases which are sprinkled throughout each half hour session while he is spreading his oils on the canvas: “so glad you could join me”, “it’s your world- you can paint anything you want”, “happy little clouds”, “happy little trees”, “all sorts of little things can happen here. You decide”. And as each show nears its end he will say something like “the old clock on the wall tells me time’s up – till next time, enjoy your painting, God bless.”
Joy of Painting is a quiet restful programme which, if I had had a hard day at work, I would find to be a great way of winding down, glass in hand, before a meal or other evening activity. His technique of wet on wet oil painting leads the viewer to believe he or she can easily paint along with him. It’s a restful style which allows Bob to turn unpromising blobs of paint effortlessly into successful landscapes (they are nearly always landscapes or seascapes), with a backdrop of “happy little clouds” in a bright summer, autumnal or winter sky according to the seasonal atmosphere he wishes to evoke.
Each programme has a moment of sudden energy when Bob cleans his two inch brush by dipping it into a tub of spirit then thrashing it vigorously against one of the metal legs of his easel to dry it. “Beating the devil out of it”. Just occasionally he slips in a slightly commercial tone: “these are the things you need to do if you want to sell your paintings”, but overall the mood is one of calm reassurance: “I want your painting to make you happy”.
I am not sure of the artistic merits of his paintings (too “chocolate box” for some), but he has a cult following and people have been known to use his programmes as mindfulness sessions, where the calming mood imbued is more important than the artistic techniques demonstrated. Inevitably in the 21st century, there is a Bob Ross website where various books, dvds and t-shirts featuring the artist can be purchased. There is even a link on the site to Bob Ross parodies on YouTube
I have the greatest admiration for amateur artists who are brave enough to display their efforts in public, whether or not they have followed a Bob Ross instruction manual. There are plenty of these talented people on Deeside and for anyone interested, the annual Art Aboyne exhibition starts in the next few days. This year, for obvious reasons, it is an on-line exhibition only, which you can find by going to @aboyne on Facebook. One of the few advantages of the pandemic is that exhibitions like this can be viewed anywhere in the world without the effort of having to travel to a physical site – though the social side is completely lost.
In the late 1980s I went through a brief phase of tinkering with paints and sketchbooks, but it was not associated with a great deal of joy (or talent). This is what my wife and 6-year old son looked like then, according to my 2B pencil:
I doubt if they were flattered by these sketches – they are certainly not smiling – but then I am no artist. If, on the other hand, you are an amateur artist, then as Bob might have said “I hope painting makes you happy.”
Talking of happiness, my wife and I have just celebrated our sapphire wedding anniversary – that is 45 years of happiness for me, and 45 years of patience and suffering for her. Celebrations were a raucously virtual affair punctuated, not by thrashing a brush, but by a moment of soporific calm, viewing one of the Bob Ross shows we had recorded.
After 45 years, you need calm more than brush thrashing.