S. John Ross (artist)
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Sebastian John Ross (April 24, 1919 – August 24, 2008) was an American-born
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. With an area of , Australia is the largest country by ...
n
caricature A caricature is a rendered image showing the features of its subject in a simplified or exaggerated way through sketching, pencil strokes, or other artistic drawings (compare to: cartoon). Caricatures can be either insulting or complimentary, a ...
artist and showman, famous for his miniature
silhouette A silhouette ( , ) is the image of a person, animal, object or scene represented as a solid shape of a single colour, usually black, with its edges matching the outline of the subject. The interior of a silhouette is featureless, and the silhou ...
portraits cut in black card and mounted on a white background. He made numerous media appearances and became a well-known identity at annual shows such as the
Sydney Royal Easter Show First held in 1823, the Sydney Royal Easter Show, commonly shortened to The Easter Show or The Show, is an annual Show (fair), show held in Sydney, Australia over two weeks around the Easter period. It comprises an agricultural show, an amusement ...
and the Brisbane Ekka, where he worked each year for about 60 years. He was regarded within his lifetime as "a legend".Peter Dun
The Silhouette Man
accessed Nov 1 2008
He first visited Australia in 1942 as a U.S. Serviceman, and in 1945 married an Australian WAAF, Phyllis Counsell. After returning to America in the late 1940s, in 1950 he moved permanently to Australia and lived in NSW at Springwood. In 1950 with some assistance from Jimmy Sharman Snr. He was introduced to the life of the Australian Outdoor Showmen and worked the shows up until 2008. In that time he worked capital shows in Sydney, Melbourne Adelaide and Brisbane. John also toured regional Queensland & NSW shows. John Ross worked at
Luna Park Sydney Luna Park Sydney is a heritage-listed This list is of heritage registers, inventories of cultural properties, natural and man-made, tangible and intangible, movable and immovable, that are deemed to be of sufficient heritage value to be ...
from 1950 until 1979. From then until his death in 2008 aged 89, when not on tour, he worked at the observation deck at Sydney's Centrepoint Tower. During this time he created thousands of portraits, including that of many celebrities. He appeared on television and radio on many occasions and hundreds of articles were written about him in newspapers and magazines. John was held in high regard by all in the Australian Show Society, being given many Show legend awards. When receiving one of these awards John always said jokingly that he would "rather be a live legend than a dead one". He also claimed that only the
Australian Taxation Office The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is an Australian statutory agency and the principal revenue collection body for the Australian Government. The ATO has responsibility for administering the Australian federal taxation system, superannuat ...
knew what the "S" in his name stood for.Sydney Morning Herald
The Silhouette Man of Luna Park
accessed Nov 1 2008
He was sometimes referred to as Scissors John. Ross Eastgate, a military historian and journalist, said of Ross that "He was not tall in stature, but he was giant in Australian entertainment."
accessed Nov 1 2008


Life


Early life

S. John Ross was born Sebastian John Ross, in
Detroit Detroit ( , ; , ) is the List of municipalities in Michigan, largest city in the U.S. state of Michigan. It is also the largest U.S. city on the Canada–United States border, United States–Canada border, and the County seat, seat of gov ...
, USA, April 24, 1919. Inspired by an artist that he saw at Michigan State Fair, he trained with the
silhouette A silhouette ( , ) is the image of a person, animal, object or scene represented as a solid shape of a single colour, usually black, with its edges matching the outline of the subject. The interior of a silhouette is featureless, and the silhou ...
artist Budd-Jack, travelling around to different fairs for three years. He later worked in
Hollywood Hollywood usually refers to: * Hollywood, Los Angeles, a neighborhood in California * Hollywood, a metonym for the cinema of the United States Hollywood may also refer to: Places United States * Hollywood District (disambiguation) * Hollywood, ...
.Silas Clifford-Smith
''S. John Ross''
Dictionary of Australian Artists Online. accessed Nov 1 2008
During
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the World War II by country, vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great power ...
, he served in the
Philippines The Philippines (; fil, Pilipinas, links=no), officially the Republic of the Philippines ( fil, Republika ng Pilipinas, links=no), * bik, Republika kan Filipinas * ceb, Republika sa Pilipinas * cbk, República de Filipinas * hil, Republ ...
, before a period in Australia where he served at Base Section 7 in Sydney, and as Staff Sergeant managed the US driving pool, driving entertainment celebrities such as
Bob Hope Leslie Townes "Bob" Hope (May 29, 1903 – July 27, 2003) was a British-American comedian, vaudevillian, actor, singer and dancer. With a career that spanned nearly 80 years, Hope appeared in more than 70 short and feature films, with ...
and
Jack Benny Jack Benny (born Benjamin Kubelsky, February 14, 1894 – December 26, 1974) was an American entertainer who evolved from a modest success playing violin on the vaudeville circuit to one of the leading entertainers of the twentieth century with ...
. In his search for good drivers, he employed a number of Australian women in the WAAAF, thus meeting Florence Phyllis Counsell (known as Phyllis). They married in February 1945. After the war, Ross returned to the United States with his wife, decided to settle permanently in Australia. They returned on the SS ''Lurline'' on 18 March 1946. They lived at Falcon Avenue, Hazelbrook, in the Blue Mountains,
New South Wales ) , nickname = , image_map = New South Wales in Australia.svg , map_caption = Location of New South Wales in AustraliaCoordinates: , subdivision_type = Country , subdivision_name = Australia , established_title = Before federation , es ...
. Ross and Phyllis had two sons, John Leyton Ross and Philip Ross.


Australia: Luna Park, Easter Show and Ekka

In 1948, Ross began to tour the circuit of
agricultural shows An agricultural show is a public event exhibiting the equipment, animals, sports and recreation associated with agriculture and animal husbandry. The largest comprise a livestock show (a judged event or display in which selective breeding, breed ...
as a silhouette artist, encouraged by the travelling showman and boxing entrepreneur Jimmy Sharman. He continued working at shows for the next 60 years, travelling as far as the Proserpine show in
Queensland ) , nickname = Sunshine State , image_map = Queensland in Australia.svg , map_caption = Location of Queensland in Australia , subdivision_type = Country , subdivision_name = Australia , established_title = Before federation , established_ ...
. From the 1950s until its closure in 1979, Ross worked at Luna Park, Sydney, unless he was touring shows; later he worked at Centrepoint Tower. He established his name on the show circuit, with generations of families taking their children to have their portraits cut out by him. In 2006 he was named an "Ekka Legend" by the Brisbane Exhibition and in 2007 was named a "Show Legend" at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.Royal Agricultural Society of NSW
Show Legends
accessed November 1, 2008
He was often heard to say that he would "rather be a living legend than a dead one". In 2004 he was commemorated at the reopened Luna Park with a mural painted by Ashley Taylor, an artist in residence.


Death

In August 2008, S. John Ross did not attend the Brisbane Ekka as usual John had previously taken ill at Cairns During his annual northern Queensland show tour and returned to Sydney where he was rushed to Westmead Hospital. Sadly after some four weeks in Hospital S John Ross passed away on Sunday August 24, 2008 with his wife Phyllis (1918-2011) and younger son Philip present. John was aged 89.


Work setting

Ross generally worked at shows in a little open booth, surrounded by a display of portraits that he had created of famous people. According to Ross, the art of making silhouettes was very important before the era of
photography Photography is the visual art, art, application, and practice of creating durable images by recording light, either electronically by means of an image sensor, or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film. It i ...
, and went back to
Ancient Greece Ancient Greece ( el, Ἑλλάς, Hellás) was a northeastern Mediterranean Sea, Mediterranean civilization, existing from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of Classical Antiquity, classical antiquity ( AD 600), th ...
. He worked quickly with a pair of small scissors, cutting portraits from thin matt black card. He usually concentrated on the profile, but would also enhance the portrait by snipping out a few details. Each portrait was mounted on white card. The likenesses were remarkable, so that it was easy to recognise the famous faces that were on display. He claimed that not everyone's face was suitable for profile portraits and that he was selective as to whom he would portray.


Famous portraits

Among the celebrities whose portraits he made were
Queen Elizabeth II Elizabeth II (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary; 21 April 1926 – 8 September 2022) was Queen of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms from 6 February 1952 until Death and state funeral of Elizabeth II, her death in 2022. She was queen ...
,
Sir Robert Menzies ''Sir'' is a formal honorific An honorific is a title that conveys esteem, courtesy, or respect for position or rank when used in addressing or referring to a person. Sometimes, the term "honorific" is used in a more specific sense to refer ...
,
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and
Nicole Kidman Nicole Mary Kidman (born 20 June 1967) is an American and Australian actress and producer. Known for Nicole Kidman on screen and stage, her work across various film and television productions from several genres, she has consistently ranked ...
. In the United States, he had made portraits of
Franklin D. Roosevelt Franklin Delano Roosevelt (; ; January 30, 1882April 12, 1945), often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American politician and attorney who served as the 32nd president of the United States The president of the United Stat ...
,
Stan Laurel Stan Laurel (born Arthur Stanley Jefferson; 16 June 1890 – 23 February 1965) was an English comic actor, writer, and film director who was one half of the comedy double act, duo Laurel and Hardy. He appeared with his comedy partner Oliver Ha ...
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Al Jolson Al Jolson (born Eizer Yoelson; June 9, 1886 – October 23, 1950) was a Lithuanian-American Jewish Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים, , ) or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and nation A nation is a community of people forme ...
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and
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Johnnie Ray John Alvin Ray (January 10, 1927 – February 24, 1990) was an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. Highly popular for most of the 1950s, Ray has been cited by critics as a major precursor to what became rock and roll, for his jazz and blu ...
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.


References

{{DEFAULTSORT:Ross, S. John 1919 births 2008 deaths Australian caricaturists American emigrants to Australia Silhouettists Artists from Detroit