Joanna Higgs Ross: A Mini Retrospective

Tennessee Arts Commission Gallery • Through July 24

White Sweater, 1956, Oil on canvas, 36” x 20”

White Sweater, 1956, Oil on canvas, 36” x 20”

The Tennessee Arts Commission is exhibiting Joanna Higgs Ross: A Mini-Retrospective 1956–2015, which highlights the work of an artist whose portfolio covers nearly 60 years. This show displays not only Ross’s artistic journey, but in many ways her life journey. As she explains, “I think we are painting ourselves to some degree.”

Ross’s career began after her graduation from the University of Tennessee Knoxville and would lead her across Tennessee and to Illinois to complete her Master of Fine Arts at the University of Illinois. This journey, however, did not come so easily. After graduating with her bachelor’s, Ross remembers, she had much to learn. She describes her love for abstract expressionism, the popular style at the time, and her conviction that things would always stay the same. Instead, Ross found a succession of new styles and the feeling that she couldn’t keep up. “I thought, oh, well I can’t do that. I can’t change every year.”

However, what she would soon realize would characterize her entire journey. “I was sitting there worrying about whether to be more abstract or more this or more that, and I said, Do you think those people in New York are just waiting to see what you’re going to do? And I thought, Well no, those people will never care what I do if I never do anything. If I don’t care, no one will.” That’s the spark Ross needed to get back to work creating and eventually to become a member of The Knoxville Seven, a group of artists credited for producing Tennessee’s first abstract paintings.

Joanna Higgs Ross: A Mini-Retrospective 1956–2015 will be on display until July 24 at the Tennessee Arts Commission Gallery. For more information, please visit

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