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Thursday, June 27, 2013

TV Painters

Bill Alexander, Alaskan Hideway
"Happy" Bob Ross
Several weeks ago I wrote on the first and original TV artist, the pattern for them all, Jon Gnagy (05-08-13). At the time, I briefly mentioned Bob Ross and Bill Alexander, two wet-on-wet painters who were to follow Gnagy a few years later on public television. It's difficult when you write daily on art and artist to keep coming up with great artist after great artist upon whom to expound. Consequently, I include from time to time the occasional artist whose work falls somewhat short of what art critics, myself included, would necessarily deem to be "great." Bob and Bill both fall into this category. They are "great" only because of the great 20th century entertainment medium of television and their mastery of the 28 minute time slot in relating their "how to" interpretations of oil painting. Stylistically, there's not a half-inch difference in their work, though Bill may have been a somewhat better all- around artist than his protégé. Yes, Bob Ross studied under Bill Alexander, which would account for most or all of their similarities.

"Bland" might be the kindest comment one could make regarding a Bob Ross
landscape, and that might be stretching the truth a little.
This fact does nothing, however, to account for their differences. Bill Alexander was German, born in East Prussia in 1916. He spoke with a modest German accent and a boisterous Prussian personality that, while TV exuberant (some would say to a fault) was only "palleteble" in small doses. Bob Ross, by contrast, born in 1942, was as American as leftover cherry pie on the fifth of July. He grew up in Orlando, Florida, and came to TV following a stint in the U.S. Air Force with duty in Fairbanks, Alaska. His television persona was so Mr. Rogers soft he was known to put viewers asleep halfway through their oil paintings. I'm not sure how many people actually learned to paint wet-on-wet landscapes by watching either of these art entertainment personalities, but I do know quite a number of local artists joined the adult art class I was teaching during the 70s and 80s as a result of having watched them.
The Bill Alexander mountain range.
Bob Ross, on his show, The Joy of Painting, did only landscapes, snowscapes, and the occasional seascape, for the most part a mountains, trees, and water formula with rare instances of manmade items such as cottages and boat docks. All were carefully rehearsed and donated to public television. Like Gnagy, both Ross and Alexander made their money from selling art supplies and the obligatory "how to" books. Alexander's show, The Magic World of Oil Painting, featured a slightly wider menu of subjects and techniques, extending to flowers and still-lifes. Bill could also paint portraits, though he never did so on TV. As to which show, which artist, you preferred, it came down to a matter of taste, depending upon whether you were the Mr. Rogers type or if you preferred a more Captain Kangaroo ambience.
Even long after his death in 1995, Bob Ross's gentle personality
made him an easy target for satire, some of which he seems to
have enjoyed. Here, though, the real target appears to have been BP.


  1. I can see you did a little homework on both artist especially on William Alexander since you know he was the better of the two . Bob wasn't even really much of an artist before meeting Bill . Bill on the other hand painted his whole life including portraits of American soldiers girlfriends while he was a prisoner during WW2 . I myself am a huge fan of both and also paint using this method . I began painting as a little kid inspired by my great uncle who might just be the only person to go to art school from the small town (street) of Candytown , Ohio , just outside of Nelsonville . lol Too make a long story short . My great Uncle passed away in 1978 and by 1980 , I lost interest in art even though I still liked admiring it . In 1985 I was 15 and my mother became sick with a rare bone cancer . She would become bedfast a lot of times out of fear of blood transfusions that might contain the new HIV- Aids virus back then. I pretty much lost touch with my friends during all of this because I couldn't leave the house in case she needed me . I also had to sit in front of a silent tv so I could hear her call me from her room . It was then I re-discovered Bob Ross and Bill Alexander . I had watched their shows before but not on a regular basis . They were great to watch since I didn't need sound for neither . Bob's waterfalls reminded my mom of her childhood growing up across from old mans Cave in Hocking county . I promised my mom that day that I would give it a go at painting happy mountains but she had to beat her cancer . She passed away in January of 1986 . In June of 1990 I bought a master paint set of Bob's and began painting for the first time since the blizzard years of the late 70's . I then read an article in the Columbus Dispatch that bashed the wet on wet technique claiming it would ruin a generation of artist . lol Sadly I believed it and stopped painting and began using pastels , I didn't want people to think I was a copycat or a fake . It wasn't until I got older and wiser that I learned wet on wet - Direct painting - Ala Prima is a lot older form of art then Bob Ross or William Alexander . I have in the past blasted bloggers who attack the technique . I have learned a ton from watching these shows from mixing colors to palette knife work . The biggest is discovering the joy of painting !

  2. Darren--

    Thanks for your kind comments. We don't live very far apart. I'm quite familiar with Nelsonville, but not Candytown.

    Bob and Ben were, to say the least, interesting artists. TV demands that of their painters. I've done a little video work on both sides of the camera, mostly to save time in teaching school, mostly involving perspective. Recently my TV appearances have been on YouTube, basically videos of some of the more popular blog entries here. They're listed under my name an "Art Now and Then."

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