Joel received his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1992 and his BFA from Tufts University in 1990. He was once a house dick for a large hotel in Boston, but much preferred an earlier stint as a freight inspector at a refrigerated warehouse in Dallas. He still has the nametag he was issued at his first job, and he doesn't spend a lot of time on his hair. He lives in Urbana, Illinois with his wife and two daughters, where he is currently an Associate Professor in the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
He is represented by Monique Meloche Gallery in Chicago.
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These are comedies and tragedies about people I’ve known and loved.
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Artist's Statement - May 2017
“America is a place and a story, made up of exuberance and suspicion, crime and liberation, lynch mobs and escapes; its greatest testaments are made of portents and warnings, Biblical allusions that lose all their certainties in American air.”
—Greil Marcus, (from his book The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice)
The first time I read this Marcus line I smiled, and then I cried. It was 2006, I was 40 years old, and at that point I’d been making art, with serious conviction, for over a decade. We were also three years into a bloody, unjustified war we were pushed into by the former Governor of Texas, my home state. Marcus’ succinct description of this country wasn’t potent because it was a revelation, it hooked me because it was a tight and unflinching description of something I understood very well. It was a confirmation, and a validation, of the contradictory feelings I have about this place some people call America. All the work I’ve ever made has, in one way or another, been an effort to give form and voice to the landscape and the ideas that create so much love, and pain.
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Artist's Statement -- about THE EVER [A Bus Bench Project], September - November 2015
Joel Ross has long engaged dual audiences - both chance onlookers and art gallery visitors - with strategically and surreptitiously installed, text-based sculptures and resulting photographs. His work activates our imagination and invites us to stop and consider some of the spaces we travel through or pass by every day: roadways, parking lots, alleys, abandoned buildings, and the dead space behind strip malls. His messages become voices in our heads tempting us to plug the gaps in these short stories, to puzzle out their meaning, and to speculate about their authors.
With The Ever, a series of site-specific works proposed for public bus benches throughout Chicago's Wicker Park /Bucktown neighborhood, Ross offers viewers provocative prompts with phrases like THE HEAVIEST THING YOU EVER TRIED TO MOVE and THE MOST YOU EVER CARED. These voices might be sprouting from cracks in the landscape or directly from the minds of pedestrians or passengers. The signs are, in effect, asking the ubiquitous 'you' to fill in the blank. Do you remember holding your breath for an especially long time, trying to move something heavy, or hearing something funny? Our responses help us claim ownership of their subject; these public signs will then become private reflections. Passing by the same sign on subsequent days, viewers might see their contemplations and memories floating above the bus stop.
"THE EVER" suggests the infinite number of answers to the "questions" posed by the text, but also the open-ended, always happening nature of life.
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–about Alleys and Parking Lots [a collaboration with Jason Creps]
Solo show at Monique Meloche Gallery – September 2012
We went to work in alleys and parking lots – spaces connected to and observable from roads – but much slower, harder, and less fluid.
They are public spaces that have an oddly private flavor. Their dullness and banality serve to make them simultaneously visible and invisible. These slower spaces, these gray areas, occasionally offer moments of cover for travelers. There they can find a place to pause, park, load, unload, shift, rest, argue, make out, piss, cry, vomit or scream without necessarily being stopped, bothered, questioned – or even seen.
We looked for fissures and vacancies, roadside spaces we could take advantage of, and then wrote narratives and built sculptures to fill them. We also wrote stories and then searched (sometimes exhaustively) to find locations with the right conditions for those characters. The sculptures are declarations, and they take possession of their site, however briefly, with confidence, humor, urgency, and sometimes aggression.
The installations guide interpretation of the sites, undermining them fundamentally with suggested threats or glorifying them with an infusion of pride or implying the aftermath of a celebration. To those who see them in person and also those who see the photographs later, we hope the sculptures that we install and abandon appear like voices sprouting from cracks in the landscape. These hard won scripts are almost always revealed at night, but sometimes during the in-between times of dawn or dusk.
Since our work is surreptitious and unauthorized, most of the sculptures disappear within 24 hours, removed and very likely destroyed. For this new series we decided to make all of the sculptures relatively small and easily manipulated – with the theory that some of them might be taken as trophies or gifts (fitting easily inside a hatchback and on the wall in most any garage or den) rather than be demolished. To our delight, at several sites where installations were removed we found clear evidence that part of the sculpture had indeed been captured rather than thrown away. Although it is not always possible, we often revisit and check up on the installations, repeatedly if they survive. We usually photograph whatever we find that remains on site, but we never interfere with the objects again. We simply observe, document, and then leave it exactly as we found it. Our part is done. And it is best left that way – open, unknown, and never-ending.
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Artist's Statement - May 2011
The majority of my recent sculptures have taken the form of roadside signage, which are made and then sited at locations ranging from single-lane gravel farm roads to major highways. Most of these interventions are not formally authorized so the work's encounter with its initial audience, travelers on the road, is often rather brief. The signs are left on site until they are removed by authorities or by citizens. Most of the signs are removed within 24 hours. A series of photographs of these installations and related works on paper become a record of these events as well as the primary point of engagement with their second audience, the art-going public.
The preliminary stage of his work is experimentation with text and image executed as very graphic, brightly colored works on paper. The text and/or images from these drawings often lead to signage-sculptures of one kind or another. The messages in the drawings (and subsequent signage) are culled from a variety of sources including news stories, advertising, radio reports, t-shirts, posters, graffiti, and bits of overheard conversation. Sometimes the messages presented are direct quotes. Sometimes they are an amalgamation of several sources. In other cases, they are fabrications intended to resonate and reverberate with the authorial voice shifting, vibrating in opposition and sometimes collapsing altogether.