Cultures, ideas meet in the art of Dan DeRoux

Juneau artist to hold show Friday at the Hangar Ballroom

Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2005

When Juneau artist Dan DeRoux was invited to paint for the Fourth Florence (Italy) Biennial of International Contemporary Art in 2003, he didn't look far for inspiration.

"The Doge's First Potlatch" depicts a swarm of Tlingit war canoes crossing the Grand Canal from a Native village to St. Mark's Plaza and the waterfront of Venice. In the foreground, two decorative nude figures frame the scene, holding a Chilkat blanket and a bear design. In the background, a team of workers hoists a totem pole in front of the doge's palace. A doge was the leader of the Venetian state.

The view, as well as some of the characters and boats, comes straight from Canaletto, a Venetian scene painter who worked in the 1700s. The idea, combining Italian and Southeast Alaska imagery, is one that DeRoux has worked with for years.

"In the potlatch, the chief would invite over another clan, or another village, and they would give away gifts of jewelry and blankets," DeRoux said. "They would dispose of stuff in the water to demonstrate they were so wealthy it didn't matter.

"The doge was more of a stingy ruler; he was tight-fisted and never gave away a nickel," he said. "It's sort of a classic contrast of the culture of Southeast Alaska Natives to this grand culture of Venice. In large part, it's an acknowledgment of what the Tlingits were about and a way of trying to explain that to the Italians."

DeRoux had to include an explanation of potlatches when he shipped the painting to Italy, but "The Doge" was well received and has also shown in Anchorage, Palm Springs and San Francisco. This weekend it's one of 12 to 14 paintings in DeRoux's one-night show, 5 p.m. Friday at the Hangar Ballroom.

This is his first Juneau show since a 2002 exhibition at the ballroom, and a 2000 program with his brother, Ken, at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. In the last 18 months, though, he's kept busy with solo shows in 2004 at the Twisted Fish in Palm Springs, Calif., St. Mark's Cathedral and Classical Grands and Galleries in Seattle, and a three-person show called "Surrealism" in 2005 at the D'Adamo/Woltz Gallery in Seattle.

DeRoux will have a solo show in 2006 at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.

"I like the spot, and it's just nice to have a one-night event," DeRoux said. "It draws people out all at once and it's a fun time. I was saving everything up for Anchorage, but I thought I'd show it here before it all goes away."

DeRoux was born in Juneau in 1951 and has lived in Alaska for most of his life. He has paintings in every major museum in the state and many corporate collections. He represented Alaska in the First Western States Arts Foundation Biennial in 1979, and he's had solo shows in St. Petersburg and Vladivostok, Russia, as well as all over the United States. One of his paintings, a combination of Mount Juneau, Gastineau Channel and Venice, hangs in the governor's office.

"A lot of my work combines Alaska with classical art imagery just because I live here, this is what I see, and the classical stuff is what I love," DeRoux said. "I've been copying and expanding and trying to learn from the masters, and I've always just absorbed what I see outside.

"It's not Alaska as isolationist. We're all connected and we're all part of history. The Tlingits were doing things in the 1700s and the 1600s that were just as important to them (as) what was going on in Italy. To me, it kind of puts it into a visual statement that we're a global culture. We're sitting in little postage-stamp Juneau, Alaska, but we're connected to Rome and we're connected to the Internet and we're connected to everything."

DeRoux has completed 15 to 20 paintings of Venetian scenes, and often draws inspiration from Canaletto's work. Friday's show, in fact, includes many recurring images from DeRoux's oeuvre.

James Kivetoruk Moses is lifted into the sky in "Ascension of Kivetoruk," a tribute to the 20th century Inupiat artist (1900-1982). A hunter in a kayak stares at a map in "Lost Diomede," inspired by a Fred Machetanz painting of a scene near Diomede. The biblical character Joseph appears in "Joseph Sells his Dreams to his Brothers," a surrealist comment on the nature of surrealism.

Deroux himself shows up in "Portrait of the Artist as a Jung Man," a take on a Thomas Eakins painting, "The Gross Clinic," in which a group of medical students amputate a man's leg.

In "Portrait," DeRoux lays on the operating table while an artist lingers to the side, holding brushes instead of a scalpel. Icons from the last 35 years of DeRoux's work surround the scene - egg beaters, pieces of pie, pencils and bars of soap.

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