Nashville is becoming more colorful, but did you ever wonder why?

As many TEDxNashville fans know, the Nashville Walls Project was founded by Éva Boros in 2016, and since then, Boros has matched over 15 world-renowned artists with walls in Nashville to leave their unique mark on the city.

Back in 2017, on the TEDxNashville stage, Éva talked about why she was inspired to bring street art to Nashville and showed off some of Music City’s newest ink (check out her Talk here). The TEDxNasville Bog was able to catch up with one of their invited artists, Ian Ross, as he was giving a colorful new persona to the side of a building in The Gulch.

Ian Ross

Surprisingly, Ian Ross did not start out as a painter. He began his art career specializing in ceramics and later attended Long Beach State University where he received a Master’s in Fine Arts. After graduation, Ian sort of drifted into painting, a medium which allowed him more flexibility to play with repetitive strokes and gestural improvisation. His familiarity with sculpture and three-dimensional detail lent well to large scale painting, enhancing his ability to interact with the mural space itself and make the surrounding environment an additional element of his art.

Ian Ross in front of his mural in The Gulch, Nashville

Describing his process, Ross says, [The finished work] is something that I don’t even know what it’s going to look like in the end and that process is really what the work is about. It is that natural thing that feels the best.”

Fast forward to present day, and Ross, along with his partner Daniele Rocha have become intertwined in the San Francisco street art scene. The couple opened the Ian Ross Gallery in 2013 where it quickly transformed from Ross’ personal studio into a prominent urban art exhibition space, and continues to gain notoriety as Rocha Art.

When asked to describe the turning point in his career, Ross told us how he earned the nickname, the “Start-Up Artist”. As he explained, “Whenever [anyone] needs a painting to raise money for a specific cause, I try to find a way to make it happen. In 2010, I donated a painting to this slow food movement in Oakland. They were trying to get produce into really bad neighborhoods that didn’t have access. The guy that ended up buying [my art] was a chef at Facebook HQ and he and I had an incredible conversation.”

This conversation led to an introduction to the head chef at Facebook’s Palo Alto campus, who had been interested in having a mural done in the café.

Ross continued, “I went down and got to have beers with these chefs who were the most gregarious, animated, hilarious – like any chef – really cool people. I hit it off with this guy and ended up getting to do a live mural at Facebook HQ for a week.” After the success of the live mural, Facebook offered Ross studio space on campus. “I would curate art in the different buildings and do murals and it kind of became this really unique roll that [Facebook] didn’t plan on having. It just sort of happened and I ended up making a lot of really amazing relationships during that time.” These relationships spring boarded Ross’ career, and led him further into the tech world, where he was commissioned to create unique pieces for companies like Tango and LinkedIn.

Photo taken from artist’s Facebook Page

Today, Ross continues to paint understanding the importance of his pieces beyond marks or colors on a wall. “Art can add so much to a neighborhood. It can be a source of positivity and growth. A lot of times public art can be a catalyst for the neighborhood to change and it can inspire all kinds of other positive illuminating factors in the culture and community around it.” He hopes his mural in the Gulch allows the public to be individually and collectively affected by something they can see within his piece. As the community interacts with his art on a daily basis, Ross says, “I work in this way that is so spontaneous and it is not intentional, so a lot of imagery can get in there that I don’t know about. It is fun for me to learn from the work as I do it and as other people see it. It’s a cool back and forth.”

If you would like to see more pictures of Ian Ross’ wall in the Gulch, visit the Nashville Wall’s Project website. For more information about Ian Ross’ story or his current projects you can visit his website.

Article by Alexa Kessler