ROSS HARRISON: Rasta Renaissance Man

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ROSS HARRISON: Rasta Renaissance Man

Ross Harrison is a cultural institution in Barwon Heads. Surfer, surf shop owner, environmental activist – he has worn many hats over the years and recently has turned his focus to painting and art.

Ross has lived in Barwon Heads for most of his life but his love of the ocean grew from time spent in Warrnambool. Ross: “I was born in Geelong, but my most influential time of my life was spent living in Warrnambool. I didn’t really kick off my surfing until I got my first car at the age of 19. Up ’till then, it was just swimming and fishing.

I think your peer group always influence you and because I hung out with keen surfers, they always kept me keen to go surfing. In the early ’80s I used to buy Surfer magazine and loved the dream of freedom, to surf anywhere at anytime. Those that influenced my surfing would have to be guys like George Greenough, Bob McTavish, Simon Anderson and Wayne Lynch.

My favourite surf beach is 13th Beach. I have surfed it since the early ’80s and ridden most of the breaks. My favourite surfers are those guys sharing waves and having fun. Frank Hollenkamp was probably one of my all time most respected surfers; a true gentleman in and out of the water he surfed into his 80th year…that’s bloody impressive.”

Ross turned to art in the eighties inspired by artists within his family: “My grandmother, Grace Simpson, was a keen painter and I used to marvel at her work. My auntie, Gwenda Emond, is an accomplished artist too. My school art teacher warned me off art and said the world shouldn’t have to suffer for it…. I truly started my art journey when we started an environmental   group back in the late 80’s…. making T shirts and then surfboards as the Rasta Surf Co.

My creative influences have strangely been the environment and politics and usually there is a thread of connectivity through all of my works. I think having several artistic friends have also opened my mind creatively – particularly Stephen Wickham (an amazing photographer, print maker and abstract painter) and Herbert Jercher (a fantastic sound Sculpture artist).

Painting and art-making to me is a freedom but [also a] discipline. Life is short so I want to create work that tells people a story, my view of the world and maybe theirs too. I don’t think surfing alone has influenced my art, as I don’t have any interest in painting surf or beach scenes…but I do acknowledge my connection to earth and water. My coastal lifestyle allows me an amazing amount of freedom of thought and creativity.”

Ross periodically has shows in Melbourne and often has art on display at the Rasta Surf Shop in Barwon Heads. You can find out more about his works on Facebook or go to

Written by John Foss