Vogue Co-Founder John Ross Is Carving Out a New Career

Photographer / Michael Durr

As a lifelong devotee of the arts and co-founder of two of Central Indiana’s most successful music venues — The Vogue Nightclub in Broad Ripple and The Bluebird Nightclub in Bloomington — it was perhaps only a matter of time before John Ross found his own stride as an artist.

It wasn’t until he reached his 40s when he fully jumped into the sculpture and painting that occupies so much of his time these days, but Ross says he was always being influenced by art and artists in one form or another throughout his life. As a kid, he and his father fashioned soapbox cars in their garage, and he recalls being taken on a tour of several major European museums by his mother as a teen.

“I think those things, when you add them all up, must have made an impression on me,” Ross says. “I did a little photography later on, and I always liked working with my hands and making things like furniture. So all that stuff probably factored into giving me the bug for sculpting and painting.”

That bug has turned into a full-fledged passion that he says is likely to be a lifelong pursuit, and now Ross spends time honing his craft in his studio space at the Stutz Business & Arts Center on Capitol Avenue. His medium of choice these days is sculpture with wood, plaster and cast resin among other materials.

Ross describes many of his sculptures — which include close-up busts, life-sized figures, and even an interactive robot with a button that, when pressed, prompts the sculpture to offer a compliment to the observer — as deliberately rough and imperfect in their finished forms — an aspect he finds inspirational in and of itself.

“I call it perfect imperfection, which is a term Sam Phillips the record producer created,” Ross explains. “He realized that if something is perfect, there’s nothing more you can do with it. To me, that closes down the meaning that other people could read into a piece of work. To me, it seems more real having something imperfect and a little rough with some humor to it.”

Born in 1946, Ross grew up in Washington, Indiana and worked as a reporter after high school, first in the U.S. Army and then for a newspaper in Bloomington. In 1972, he and a friend decided to make a foray into the entertainment industry and opened The Bluebird Nightclub in Bloomington, which went on to become a fixture of the city’s music scene. Six years later Ross co-founded The Vogue in Broad Ripple with similar success, and the many musical acts that came through both venues helped to further ignite his passion for artistic expression. He says the local and regional funk and rock acts he hired were major influences in particular.

“I don’t think you can be around that much good music and not let it get into your bones,” Ross says. “Seeing all those great performers made me want to do something creative.”

Ross sold The Vogue to his brother Steve and Steve’s business partner in the mid-1980s, and a few years later he decided to make use of his newfound freedom to enroll at the Herron School of Art and Design, where he started out with a concentration in painting but eventually obtained a degree in sculpture.

“I still like painting but it’s stationary, and with sculpture, I like that it’s more physical and you’re moving around and have things to lift,” says Ross, who resides near Broad Ripple Village. “It comes back to liking that physical process of working with my hands.”

Ross says German painter and sculptor Georg Baselitz was a major influence on his decision to undertake wooden sculpture, for which he frequently uses a chainsaw with Basswood or plywood. He views the imprecise nature of his chainsaw carvings as a metaphor for human beings themselves.

“Wood is fun because it’s living and has human qualities, and you might get into it and find cracks and imperfections – just like people,” he says. “You never know what you’re going to find.”

For more on John Ross’s artwork, explore johnrossart.com.

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