Ross Sallaway won his first prize for his art when he was a youngster growing up in Queensland, Australia.
More than 50 years later he has just confirmed that he is one of our county’s most talented artists by winning the 2018 Derbyshire Open with his painting of Derby Cathedral.
The success of the beautiful watercolour of St Mary’s Gate at night, above, is even more remarkable because Ross specialises in portrait painting.
“My landscapes and cityscapes are a sort of counterbalance to my work as a portrait artist. I enjoy capturing the mood and atmosphere of a place – especially at night. I saw that particular view of the Cathedral one day and I knew straight away I had to paint it,” explained the artist at his terraced cottage in Belper.
“Of course I was delighted when it won the Derbyshire Trophy this summer. It is quite an honour for me.”
Ross, 74, is a quietly spoken, thoughtful man. At first he appears shy of talking about his life’s work, and it is only when prompted by his partner Tricia that he becomes a little less modest about his achievements over the years.
However, once standing in front of one of his paintings, his face lights up and he is happy to talk passionately about what he does and what has inspired him.
“I love finding out about people. When I am going to paint someone I might spend more than a day with them to get an insight into who they really are – what their personality is like,” he says with vivacity.
“I like to get in behind the front people naturally put up, to reveal something they might not have been expecting.”
Obviously he takes into account the wishes of his clients if he has a commission but he does always tell them that his painting will be his own subjective interpretation of what he sees in them.
As a child he was surrounded by art books as his mother was a commercial painter and he says that it was the colour plates in those books which first captured his attention.
“Rembrandt in particular caught my attention from a very early age and I just loved to paint.
“I entered one of my paintings in an art competition in the Courier Mail newspaper and won it which encouraged me to carry on.
“Part of my prize was free tuition on Saturday mornings with an artist who was well-known at the time.”
In his late 20s Ross left his homeland to join his then wife in Denmark, where he spent 30 years or so successfully selling his portrait work.
At the turn of the Millennium he began a new stage of his life, living in Derbyshire, where he has been painting people of all ages and in a variety of settings from casual to formal.
On his website you will find among others Pauline Latham MP when she was Mayor of Derby and even Belper’s former town crier Terry Porter in all his regalia.
Ross admits that after a couple of months’ working on a portrait he finds it hard to part with them, which is pretty obvious from the number of paintings in his home, both on the walls and carefully stashed in his studio.
One of his goals for the next year is to find himself a gallery where he can gain a wider audience for his work and at the same time free up some space in his studio.
“I definitely have difficulty in letting them go…,” he said sheepishly glancing sideways at Tricia who had just expressed a desire for a little more white space on the walls.
“…But maybe now is the time to put a bit more effort into selling some of my work,” he added with a smile.
STOP PRESS: Since our interview Ross has already had success in finding gallery space and will be exhibiting his work at Hall of Frames in King Street, Belper, during October.