DeRoux inteprets Alaska through his brush

Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2010

Self-buttering bread, flying pie, clamshells, bricklayers, red dogs, gavels and automobiles are just a few items featured in Dan DeRoux's surrealistic painting titled "Joseph Sells His Dreams." DeRoux called the work autobiographical, with almost every square inch of the canvas full of iconic imagery representative of his nearly 40 years as an artist.

Libby Sterling / Capital City Weekly
Libby Sterling / Capital City Weekly

The painting currently hangs among a dozen others in a January exhibition of DeRoux's work at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. His work's content ranges from scenic landscapes to portraits, but each is a scene of fantasy not to be merely taken at face value. Some depict dinosaurs, others combine familiar sights with make-believe elements.

In "South Seward Serenade,"DeRoux painted his own version of downtown Juneau's Front St.-what it would look like if Alaska had been settled by the Italians instead of the Russians.

"We could have had a walled city with controlled tidewater canals," DeRoux said. "And it was only 100 years ago, so you can just step back and imagine ... what we could have been."

One of the highlights of painting for DeRoux is the freedom of imagination. If he wonders what something might look like, he can make his vision tangible on canvas.

DeRoux was born and raised in Juneau, and many Alaska elements naturally manifest themselves in his work.

"It seems to me to always be a cultural melding of Alaska and history, Alaska and the world or our place in the world now," DeRoux said. "And because I live in Juneau, there's always water somewhere in the picture."

In studying art, DeRoux found that he identified with painters of many styles including surrealism, Dadaism, impressionism and many classical painters including Raphael, Vermeer and Michelangelo. His triptych, "Pluto and Proserpina," is a study of a marble sculpture by Bernini, painted from different views and interpreted through DeRoux's brush.

"It's just a jaw-dropping sculpture," DeRoux said. "It looks like it's not made by human hands. (My painting) is a tribute to (Bernini's) work and is somehow an expression of how I look at it. But it's not conveying anything that he didn't convey, just kind of restating it in a much less powerful way."

DeRoux said it the process of painting the piece was like "taking lessons from Bernini."

"When you look at these (artists) and the subtlety of their work, it teaches you about observation." DeRoux said. "You can always go further and further into what he's done. You look at a hand and it seems pretty basic, but when you start looking at all the musculature and the subtleties on the skin, you start to see what they saw."

The triptych is dynamic, standing out from other work in the exhibition. On an adjacent wall hangs "Bering Loses His Marbles," a painting taken from a pastel sketch that DeRoux first created over 25 years ago. The piece contains several figures arranged in positions taken from Raphael's famous work, "School of Athens." DeRoux also echoes Raphael's inclusion of a self-portrait in the composition, a face that seems to be staring out of the painting in an attempt to make contact with the viewer.

Many of DeRoux's pieces include elements of regional mythical significance, referencing legendary supernatural beings such as mermaids and woodland witches. Other paintings explore Alaskan explorer history, side-by-side with images commenting on the current climate crisis.

His series of "Unusual Weather Patterns" reference the "jargon and terminology" that have developed to describe global warming.

"Everybody expected unusual weather patterns, so I thought, what does that look like?" DeRoux said.

His mind's eye saw a peaceful scene with a "big plaid weather front coming in." But he didn't stop at plaid. He also created paisley storms and hounds tooth breaks in the clouds.

"That's part of the creative process, when you touch into the subconscious or the sublime and keep your editors out," DeRoux said. "The psyche starts playing into your choice of images and that aspect makes it interesting. The artist is someone who can take those things, put them into images and not be put into an asylum."

Above all, DeRoux enjoys working in Juneau, a place where he can focus on his roots.

"I like to think of my work as portraying Alaska in the world," DeRoux said. "To look back in 100 or 200 years at this little body of work, in time I think you would say that this was an Alaskan guy who had his eye on what was happening around him and what came before him and absorbed it. This is what it was like to be alive in this information age, in Alaska, isolated in Juneau, observing the stuff around you and spitting it out. It's a little snapshot of what it's like to be here. So I feel really great about representing that space in time."

Dan DeRoux's work is on display at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum through the end of January.

• Libby Sterling may be reached at

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