Artist/musician explores ‘chance encounters’ in library exhibit

By: Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published January 8, 2013


FERNDALE — Mike Ross is a visual artist and musician, but he doesn’t draw any lines of distinction between his two mediums of choice.

“I would say that most of my visual inspirations are musical, which is why I think there are so many similarities between the art and the music that I make,” said Ross, a Pleasant Ridge resident. “They both deal with ideas of pattern and repetition because I just love the way that repetitions can suddenly diverge and lead to brand new patterns.”

Ross will be bringing his artistic vision to the Ferndale Public Library this weekend for the unveiling of his new exhibit, “Who Are We to Argue with Chance?” a solo collection of 28 original paintings presented by the library’s Arts and Exhibitions Committee. These works, which embody a two-year exploration of the ways that repetition and the juxtaposition of lines and colors can affect an audience, will be displayed in the library’s Atrium and Community Room from Jan. 12 through Feb. 23.

The library is also hosting an artist reception from 7-9 p.m. Jan. 12. In addition to viewing the exhibit and meeting the artist, guests can enjoy live music performed by Cactuswax — one of Ross’ various experimental music projects — as well as light refreshments.

Ross’ paintings investigate the provocation of chance, the inspiration of a pattern disrupted and sudden unpredictability. Working in a variety of mediums, including oils and watercolors, his work features a series of bold, parallel lines atop colorful shapes that combine to create multi-layered images. The artist cites Robert Ryman, Jackson Pollack, Andy Warhol and R. Crumb among his primary visual influences.

Musically, much of his inspiration is derived from eccentric sonic sculptors who specialize in layered sounds and rhythms: rock artists with avant-garde flourishes like Acid Mothers Temple, Durutti Column and Lou Reed’s divisive “Metal Machine Music” album, along with minimalist classical composers like Steve Reich and Terry Riley.

“I like music that really envelopes you with sound,” he said, “because that’s what really gets my brain waves working and makes me want to translate that sound into a painting.”

For “Who Are We to Argue with Chance?” Ross wanted to present a collection of art — featuring pieces both large and small, old and new — that carries a common theme.

“The idea of chance runs through all of my work,” he explained. “A lot of times, I’m purposely repeating my mistakes to create this ripple effect. I feel like that sort of parallels the way that life works. Any chance encounter that you come across could become a defining moment in your life, and I like exploring that idea in the visual realm.”

According to Lindsey Harnish, circulation specialist at the Ferndale library and one of the curators of Ross’ exhibit, she and other members of the Arts and Exhibitions Committee were highly impressed by the portfolio of work that the artist submitted and were happy to offer him his own exhibit at the library.

“Mike’s work struck us as very strong and vibrant, with bold lines and great colors,” she said. “There’s an exciting quality to it, as well as a terrific sense of humor. His work also seemed like it would look great in our gallery. In a big space like the library, artwork really needs to stand out so that it doesn’t get overwhelmed by the environment.”

“Who Are We to Argue with Chance?” will mark the Arts and Exhibitions Committee’s second time hosting an art exhibit inside the library. Last September and October, it presented a show featuring the work of 11 local artists in a variety of mediums. Harnish noted that the committee plans to host a new exhibit every couple of months, including an upcoming display that will tie in to the library’s annual Ferndale Reads event.

Live music at the artist receptions will be a recurring element of each of these exhibits. “I really like the energy of having music and art together in the same space so that they feed off each other,” Harnish said. “It gives people a reason to linger here a little longer, and it makes the library seem like less of a dry, sterile place.”

The Arts and Exhibitions Committee’s mission is to promote and foster an appreciation of two- and three-dimensional art for library patrons through exhibits, lectures and an expanded collection of art books. Ross, for one, is excited to see the Ferndale library so openly supporting the area’s many independent artists and musicians by giving them a public forum to showcase their work.

“I have to give them a lot of credit,” he said. “With their (First Stop Friday concerts), they’re definitely not afraid to bring in some music that’s a little more out there. I feel like they’re really redefining what kind of music can be played inside a library, and I love the fact that they’re embracing the arts and reaching out to the local community. I think they’re doing all the right things to become more of a 21st-century library.”

For more information about Mike Ross’ artwork, go to http://loose For more information about the “Who Are We to Argue with Chance?” exhibit, call (248) 546-2504 or visit