Dr Donnie Ross has been a contributor to Pushing Out the Boat for several years. An ex-medical director of the flagship hospital in the North East of Scotland turned well-renowned artist, he has also been Chairman of Grampian Hospitals Art Trust (GHAT).
How, and why did you decide to start painting?
I started painting when I was at school. I was brought up in Sandhaven, a small fishing village in the North East, and used to spend my spare time drawing boats on the old bits of wood washed up on the shore. This got me familiar with depicting textures in various art forms.
At that time, it was hard to imagine a career in anything creative. For various reasons, I was encouraged to become a Doctor and channelled (most of!) my energy into my professional career.
Actually, I was told off at medical school for drawing in my Anatomy exams! Nonetheless, I had a fulfilling 40-year career in the medical profession.
What inspired you to become a full-time artist?
I was drawing and painting sporadically throughout my medical career, but when I retired in 2003 I built a studio in my garden (it took three years!) and now it’s my full-time pursuit – along with writing, music, studying languages and fighting for justice for NHS whistle-blowers!
I’ve always been fascinated with the way in which we each perceive things differently. This is especially true of art as what one person sees in an image, may not be what another does.
I wanted to produce images which really got people looking and thinking to decipher in a way they hadn’t anticipated.
Although I love representational art, currently I work without any real plan of creating a specific thing – I’m trying to remain unaware of what is it I’m producing. It’s not until I’m finished, and hopefully find something meaningful in the frame, that I crop it to a satisfying point of completion. If I get to that point, it’s a success!
I rarely name my paintings because I don’t want to project what I see into the mind of the viewer. I’d rather encourage people to find their own meaning in the image based on their incoming perceptions and the painting’s ambiguity.
As your medical career was based on science, and facts – how have you shifted your mindset?
As a Doctor, I’ve spent my entire adult life carefully analysing each eventuality to eliminate ambiguity (and risk) as far as possible – which is the exact opposite of what I do whilst painting.
Science assumes that information comes into our brains and we interpret the incoming perceptions moment-to-moment. I don’t think this is always true. I believe we perceive three or four cardinal items in context-based frames of reference, and we project 98% of what we expect to see within that context. Hence the saying, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”.
Really, ambiguity is incredibly important to art. As an artist, I’ve had to put my previous reliance on scientific objectivity aside to develop my creative side.
When did you first become aware of POTB?
I actually bought a copy a few years ago, really enjoyed the quality content and submitted my work for consideration for the edition thereafter.
Thankfully, my work was accepted and I was thrilled. It was fantastic to have my work published because, above all else, it validated that others appreciated my art and writing – especially when all submissions are judged anonymously.
POTB is such a great publication – it really is a highly regarded and key medium for artists and writers on the North East’s rich literary and art scene. I’m always proud when I’m lucky enough to feature within its pages.