Artist Spotlight: Bill Rose

“Everybody Knows…” is a collection of 28 works by local artist Bill Rose, that have been inspired by the lyrics of Leonard Cohen.


Born in Freshwater, Placenta Bay, artist Bill Rose can only be classified as unique. 

Rose explains his work this way, ‘‘The grid is the fundamental device. Employing a painstaking process of transferring the image from photograph to canvas, one block at a time, the image slowly comes together over a period of weeks and months.”

In 2002, Rose was given a mid-career retrospective exhibition by the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2004 he was short-listed for Artist of the Year by the Newfoundland Arts Council. He has also had Canadian solo shows in Toronto, London, Fredericton and Montreal and over 25 solo exhibits here at home in Newfoundland. 

Everybody knows

In 2017 his portrait of Leonard Cohen was  exhibited in the exhibition IMAGO MUNDI at the Venice Biennale in Italy. Now, Cohen is once again an inspiration. 

“‘Everybody Knows…’ is a collection of 28 works that have been inspired by the lyrics of Leonard Cohen,” he begins. Many of the pieces have political and religious overtones, he admits almost proudly. 

 “I wasn’t trying to illustrate Cohen’s lyrics,  I was more interested in my reaction to his lyrics and how they would fit into my whole body of work over the past 40 years,” he shares.

Looking through the creations for this exhibition, which takes place at Emma Butler Gallery beginning May 25, takes time. Everything looks ‘somewhat’ familiar yet the eye and brain must linger to absorb the known image presented in a unique, very Bill Rose-like fashion. Take the Cohen piece, for example. 

“One of the pieces in the show is a portrait of Cohen which is made up of approximately 10,000 rubber stamped hearts as Cohen was often referred to as the poet of the heart,” he shares, channeling his initial inspiration by mentioning one song in particular.

“Cohen’s song Tower of Song is a tribute to his favourite musicians who went before him.  For the show I have created my own tower of song which is made up of some of my favourite musicians; Dylan, Keith Richards, The Beatles, Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, and of course, Cohen.” 

Cohen’s Came so Far for Beauty, inspired a self portrait. His Take this Longing was matched with a famous image of student Vietnam protest held in Ohio where four students were shot and killed.

Working the mind

From the back of a Chevy to the city’s  beloved Bacilica to even Captain Crunch himself, everything, it seems, can be matched to music and lyrics if you’re Bill Rose. 

Rose, who has exhibited his work in more than 50 group shows throughout Canada, the United States and Germany, says he doesn’t mind if his work “makes the mind work.”  

Having works in places like the Canada Council Art Bank and the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland and in several other public and private collections across Canada, the United States, Australia, Germany, Switzerland and Holland, Rose is no stranger to having his work studied and examined.

Rose hopes this show also draws a crowd as well as gets people thinking. ‘‘Art is always a labour of love. And having your work seen, if not appreciated and questioned, is the cherry on top,” he says. 

With that in mind, Rose is extending a warm, enthusiastic welcome to everyone. “All are welcome. Please come. Consider this the official invite.”

The show opens at Emma Butler Gallery  111 George Street West on May 25 and runs to June 8.  The opening reception is on May 25 from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. 

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