Thanks to Netflix, another generation, including me, have discovered the absolutely surreal universe of Bob Ross' work.

Called, "The Joy of Painting" - which is the most perfect and apt title since "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", a combination of a unique personality and the surreal production values of the early 1990s created an absolutely fascinating show that worth a look just for the experience.

The 1980s experimented with video effects, in the UK referred to as "Quantel". You got a lot of "fizzy" backgrounds and strange effects from chroma-key which usually resulted in the picture being slightly off. Though Ross worked with an entirely black background, it was unlit in such a way that Ross and his canvas were literally suspended in a void. And the effect of the 1990s video technology plus tape artifacts means that there's a generalized hypnotic low level visual and auditory "hum" throughout the proceedings familiar to anyone who's drug their parents' old VCR out of the attic and had to play with the "tracking" knob.

Along with a metal easel and a standard pre-stretched, pre-gesso'd canvas, there was nothing else but Bob himself. With his kind, reassuring smile and his pouffy, Q-Tip like Afro (he was white), he always wore the same pastel blue shirt whose collar almost suggested a 1970s airplane wing collar. A quiet, gentle man, he was the sort of inoffensive nice that walks the uncanny valley between "I'd like to meet the guy" and being slightly uncomfortable at his mentions that he lives with his mother and has the neighborhood children over to see his squirrels.

EDIT: Straight from user TheCustodian:

a) he hated the Afro but was too good a marketer to change his image
b) he made tons of $ from selling the supplies listed in the show
c) he was a drill sergeant in the USAF stationed in Alaska, and once mentioned that when he got out he 'never wanted to scream at anyone again.'


But the real magic happened when he started painting.

To him, painting was not a function of examining a subject and reproducing what he saw, something that many a budding artist has tried to do and cried over the results. To him - it was about the sheer experience of taking a blank white surface, and turning it into something that suggested a space. With a few brushstrokes in a "wet on wet" technique, he'd turn a few smears of oil paint into the suggestion of a morning sky. He would quietly patter away as he went, basically encouraging people with how easy it was. All he had to do was mix in a bit of this color with that color, use a filbert brush to dab it in, and then blend it with a two inch brush. Or even a one inch brush. Or use more crimson if you want. It's your world.

His painting was not so much impressionist as it was using a "visual shorthand". Scumbling some bright green over darker green made a "happy little tree". A simple liner brush made a brown line which was "a tree trunk that just catches the light". It was not so much that he was doing this to teach people how to copy nature - but, like a Zen master takes a raw material and with slight prunings creates his idea of "tree" creating a bonsai - his was demonstrating that it's no more than a dab with the side of a brush like so, or a curve with a fanbrush like this, or scumbling/pushing the paint in like that - that turns a raw splotch of pigment and binder into something that suggests a tree, or a cabin, or a crashing wave.

His voice was quiet, soothing, meditative, calming. Reassuring. This was a happy little tree. Let's put up a lonely little bird. It's your world. You can do this if you wish, or do something totally else, it's your painting and your world. Painting a seascape, he'd make crashing wave noises and weave a synaesthesia of onomatopoeia, words and pigment to suggest a crashing surf on a gentle beach.

And remember, all of this was in the context of a black background so black it was VOID. Like that substance MIT just discovered that EATS light, darker than dark - making Hot Topic bid on it to create a color Goths will replace their entire wardrobes with.

All there was was a world slowly taking shape, a gentle hypnotic pattern of words and sound, and a reassuring, uplifting message. This is fun. You can do this. Create your world. Make it yours. Listening to him keep up that patter, while at the same time making a painting is like watching a skilled drummer playing different rhythms with each hand. He was masterful at it.

If there was something very time consuming that would otherwise bore the viewer, he'd show a small part of it, then cut to extreme close up footage of him feeding baby squirrels that he'd rescued. Watching the series as a whole, you get to watch the squirrels grow up, fill out, and get fur. It's an intriguing device - cutting to a newborn squirrel gleefully sucking milk out of a syringe while making happy chirping noises to mentally fill in the time between him starting on a time consuming process, and the final part of that process.

At the end of the 30 minutes, he'd have a painting. Okay, so it looked like a cross between a Thomas Kinkcade painting and a 1970s prog rock album cover, and spawned a cottage industry of similar art that you can buy by the pound at the occasional hotel ballroom "art sale", but again - for Ross it was less about where you got to and more about how you got there.

I'm hooked. I'll never pick up a paintbrush but there is something soothing about watching a world take shape, with him talking about "those little devils" or what have you when describing scumbling leaves on a "happy little tree". He emphasized that there's no wrong move, just "happy accidents". It's really uplifting, calming and meditative. And contemplative.

Bob Ross died of lymphoma and made sure his paintings would never be offered for sale. That seems right. To him it was not about the painting, but the joy of painting. RIP Mr. Ross. I hope you and your squirrels are happy in Heaven.