Bob Ross died on July 4, 1995 — a touching coda for the landscape artist whose PBS series, “The Joy of Painting,” freed the art world from its stuffiness and made it accessible to everyone.
The legacy of Ross, who would have turned 78 in October, is inarguable. His reassuring, soothing voice, the “happy little trees” he painted on TV and even his expansive afro transformed “The Joy of Painting” into an iconic pop-culture phenomenon that’s aired somewhere in the US — every single day — since its premiere 37 years ago.
The series (1983-94) is now more accessible than ever with its launch on Tubi, the free streaming service that, by the end of July, will have added 30 seasons and nearly 400 episodes of “The Joy of Painting” to its slate via the Docurama Channel from Cinedigm.
Joan Kowalski, the president of Bob Ross, Inc., spoke to The Post about the lasting impact of Ross and his series. (Her parents, Annette and Walt, were partners with Ross in the company.)
Bob Ross in 1991.The LIFE Images Collection via G
Why is Tubi a good home for the complete Bob Ross collection?
The pandemic has caused an incredible increase in interest in Bob — it’s become clear that people must have Bob Ross all the time, or as much as they can. Tubi falls right into place with that and it’s free — and that’s a biggie.
Why do you think Bob resonates so much with viewers?
It’s just the whole package. Bob Ross is just the perfect storm — the voice, the ability to paint, which is the kind of thing people want to do secretly. If Bob had been fixing cars it might not have been exactly the same thing. There’s something about his painting that touches people; his voice, his mannerisms, the sound of the brush against the canvas, his phraseology, which is repetitive on purpose…even his physical appearance is very appealing. “The Joy of Painting” is non-controversial — it’s packaged in a way that’s very expected and known with no crazy surprises. Some of the elements you see stayed the same — and we all changed around them. That’s why the show keeps being new again.
I think of it as TV comfort food.
Bob knew that the brush hitting the canvas and the knife scraping across the mountain was a response to that; maybe he didn’t have to hit the brush quite so hard, but he knew that sound meant something to people. People would tell him, “I can’t sleep without the sound of your program” and he didn’t want to tell them that he heard that hundreds of times a week. People that were older and in Bob’s classes would sort of be bashful; their hands would shake while they were painting and he used to tell them that elderly folks can make the best tree trunks because of their natural shaking. They would beam when he said that.
Bob RossBob Ross name and images are registered trademarks of Bob Ross Inc. © Bob Ross Inc. Used with permission.
Tell me a little bit about Bob’s personality.
He really was like he was on TV and I’m not just saying that to sound appropriate. He had the luxury of being like that because he didn’t have a lot of the stresses of the other [business] partners, who were … paying the bills and making sure we were on [PBS] stations. Bob was charged with being Bob. My parents, who are in their 90s, remind me that he was pretty demanding and he had a way of how he wanted things to be — and you didn’t want to go outside of that. He was very convincing. He wanted things to be simple — nothing risky outside of the set formula. We had a paint manufacturer who wanted Bob to use different kinds of brushes and wanted him to have more than 13 colors so he could sell more paint. At the end of the day, Bob had only 13 colors. He didn’t want bigger brushes because he knew elderly women would be using them and [the brushes] shouldn’t be too heavy otherwise they’d get discouraged. Bob had a vision and followed it — and aren’t we glad now that he did?