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Minimalist Aesthetic of Ross Catches Collectors’ Fancy

In the past three years, prices for the abstract paintings of Johnnie Winona Ross have increased tenfold, reports Stephen Haller, his Manhattan dealer. Haller, who began representing Ross in 2002, is currently exhibiting 15 works by the artist (April 9-May 17). The show was sold out before it opened. Works are priced at $18,000 for

NEW YORK—In the past three years, prices for the abstract paintings of Johnnie Winona Ross have increased tenfold, reports Stephen Haller, his Manhattan dealer. Haller, who began representing Ross in 2002, is currently exhibiting 15 works by the artist (April 9-May 17). The show was sold out before it opened.

Works are priced at $18,000 for 22-inch-square paintings, $34,000 for 48-inch-square works, and $52,000 for 72-inch pieces.

This is his second exhibition at the Stephen Haller Gallery; the first, in 2004, was also a sellout. After that show prices almost doubled, increasing, for instance, from $9,500 to $16,000 for a 48-inch picture.

“His work has caught the fancy of a number of collectors,” says Haller, noting that many of them have shown a preference for the minimalist aesthetic that Ross expresses. It was at the home of a minimalist art collector in the southwest in 2000 that Haller first encountered the artist’s work, eventually meeting Ross and inviting him into the gallery. At the time he said he had nothing to exhibit, having sold his entire inventory at various gallery shows in Boston, Chicago, Maine, New Mexico, Texas and elsewhere.

Ross produces 15-18 new works annually, applying as many as 90-100 layers of paint to the canvas, then scraping the surface with a straight-edged razor to reveal the many layers (and their chronology), and finally burnishing the surface with a Pueblo pottery stone to achieve a soft gloss. The artist also has created a number of lithographs that originally fetched $1,200 each but are presently sold out.

Ross, 55, has long been an abstractionist, but his work changed noticeably in the mid-1990s after he was invited to be an artist in residence at the artists’ community in Roswell, N.Mex. Previously he taught at the Maine College of Art.

After his residency Ross returned to Maine for four years but then departed again, this time to pursue painting full-time in Arroyo Seco, N.Mex., near Taos, where his imagery came to reflect the more horizontal and barren vistas of the desert landscape. There has been no secondary market activity to date, Haller says.

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