Known to all but his family as Frank Ross (having kept the name “Adonis” for his mother and immediate family), Adonis Frank Ross is a true son of the Boland agricultural and wine growing region that lies to north of Cape Town. Frank is no stranger to hardship and had to leave school to work and contribute to his family’s income, only completing his junior certificate by studying part-time classes while working.
Frank entered the workforce as a casual labourer at a local factory making fish tins. Over the years Frank was trained and later promoted to middle management. Then in 1989, the factory was taken over by a large multi-national and Frank was one of four long-standing managers laid off. With a big smile he appreciates the irony of having worked in a tin factory and now using scrap metal tin as a material in his artworks.
A ‘Springbok’ and long distance runner, Frank’s father, Solomon Ross, remains a role model for Frank’s own life, and trained him at an early age to run marathons and adhere to a firm set of principles that would help him survive many years of hardship. When Frank was retrenched he used his retrenchment money to set up a barber shop which he operated successfully until 1994, when strict requirements for operating a barber shop were introduced and his business became unviable.
The loss of his business and livelihood caused Frank considerable distress. “I would lie awake at night and think about the losses and what could I do and I thought ‘I can paint!’”. His confidence and his talent was soon recognised by his art teacher, Mr. Ronnie Hendricks, and with encouragement from his friends and family Frank took odd jobs gardening and helping out where he could so that he could paint at night and have enough money to pay for painting materials.
Frank gained most of his knowledge from associating with other established and emerging township artists. He patiently spent hours observing them working, and dedicated substantial time to viewing other artists’ works in galleries. Acclaimed South African artist Selwyn Pekeur fondly recalls Frank’s visits to his studio, and recalls him observing and asking questions late into the night before running the long distance back home to continue working on his own art.
Frank has a wide circle of friends and family and spends time with other South African artists. Despite his lack of formal art training he has an inherent appreciation for other artists’ works. Frank’s home contains a collection of some fine examples of South African art, many of which he has received in exchange for his own works direct from fellow artists or gallery owners.
Frank’s use of colour in producing township art is bold, direct and deliberate. The colour red is deeply symbolic to him. “I always paint the land in red. The red symbolises the unhappiness from our land. There is always trouble. Our people have many problems with land. There is ongoing political trouble.”
The light reflects off the metal tin roofs, encouraging closer scrutiny of the detail in the artwork. The shining colours highlight the various materials used in construction of dwellings and shops; the brightly coloured clothes drying in the wind over walls and on makeshift washing lines; the dust from the local soccer match and the sounds of daily life in the Township come alive.
Occasionally the iconic Table Mountain is silhouetted in the background as one is drawn into the energy and vibrancy of South African Township life as captured by Frank’s rough and honest artworks.
Humbled by Frank’s refined talent and expression, the eye of the admirer is drawn to the subtle messages contained in each of his works. To many born outside the Township, it seems that not even hope can survive in this squalid environment. Yet open expression of hope and dignity is exactly what prospers and drives people in the Townships to improve their lives and those of their children.
Normally we look to privacy to support our own pride and reinforce our sense of self-worth. In Township life this is the opposite – there is no privacy, but there is hope, respect, fervent religious zeal and an overwhelming sense of community and sharing of hardships – all contributing to the spirit of survival and upliftment which is so important to progress.
Frank’s love of art, coupled with his life history and strong religious convictions, have provided him with a perspective on township life unique amongst South African artists. He is able to draw on the Township’s mix of brand labels, squalor and service breakdown to produce a non-judgemental ‘record of progress’ in his township art.
• Kuaba Gallery - United States of America 2005
• Alfred Mall Gallery, Alfred Mall, V&A Waterfront - Cape Town 2006
• Vineyard Gallery Franschhoek – Franschhoek, Cape Town 2007
• Hyde Park Gallery, Hyde Park – Johannesburg 2008 & 2009
More recently, in early 2009, Adonis Frank Ross had an opening night sell-out exhibition in Switzerland at which he sold 34 artworks at a total value of ZAR 2.9 million.
Frank’s work features in several notable corporate and private collections including those of the South African National Treasury, Western Cape Provincial Cabinet, Steven A. Einehof (Chief of Staff for the House Democratic Leader in Washington DC) and Trevor Manuel (former South African finance minister).
Commission or purchase an artwork by this outstanding South African artist online now by emailing Fine Art Portfolio at email@example.com.