And three years ago, when the now-28-year-old Ross was serving the end of a five-year sentence in Stony Mountain Penitentiary, he must have had a place like Graffiti Gallery in mind. Inspired by a fellow inmate, Ross began creating art in 2003, while he was still behind bars.
A supportive prison counsellor and a day pass near the end of his sentence brought Ross, who grew up on the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation reserve near Brandon, to five local galleries. On the strength of their meeting with him, the folks at Graffiti suggested that Ross join their Urban Canvas program. Urban Canvas is an innovative year-long course that gives young inner-city artists -- particularly those who might be lacking in work experience or formal education -- a chance to learn the professional practice of art, along with valuable life skills.
Now, just four years after first picking up a brush and pencil, Ross has a solo show of some two dozen paintings at Graffiti Gallery.
Most of the works combine traditional aboriginal imagery with a modern surrealist touch, and show the unmistakable world view of someone who's been there and back, so to speak.
When it's mentioned that this show might be perceived by some as dark, or foreboding, Ross replies: "It is dark. But that's because where I learned wasn't the brightest place."
Done almost entirely in black and white, and featuring works that combine faces, landscapes and natural images, there's a certain narrative voice that runs through Ross's exhibit.
One recurring theme, for example, is a single set of footprints across a windswept desert, passing what appears to be a series of milestones or distance markers.
In My Path, where a lone crow sits on one of the markers, a series of hills blends with a person's hair, and the clouds themselves lean down and join the landscape. It suggests a world in which all these elements are unified, and become part and parcel of the same cycles.
Figures like the Grim Reaper show up, alongside leafless trees and graveyards, all making what might seem at first glance to be a depressing collection of art.
Yet in portraits like Beautiful Maria, or the semi-abstract A Gift of Colour, Ross injects bursts of life into the exhibit, which keeps it from coming across as an exercise in misery and angst.
In following the exhibit around the room, the viewer is given a sense of one person's journey through the milestones of life.
The last work in the show, Walking To a New World, seems to complete the story. In it, we see the same set of footprints, and the same bleak hills, except that this time we finally see where the journey began: an open grave, with the footprints leading out of it and vanishing over a hill.
From an artist who's seen the worst and come out the other side, who's turned his life experiences into a visual story, this last image takes a show that could have seemed bleak and turns it into a powerful message of hope.
Solo Exhibition, by Patrick Ross
Graffiti Gallery, 109 Higgins Ave.
To April 17