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The fun of success

Juneau painter Dan DeRoux has banner year with two important commissions and winning the Individual Artist category for Alaska State Arts Council's 2008 Governor's Awards for the Arts

Posted: Thursday, September 25, 2008

When Juneau artist Dan DeRoux heard early in 2008 that one of his paintings had been donated to the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, he thought his year had already peaked.

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COURTESY OF DAN DEROUX
COURTESY OF DAN DEROUX

"That's the oldest art museum in the country," he said. "When I heard that news I thought that was it - that made everything all worthwhile for all these years, just the feeling that there's something in a national institute like that. I am really happy about that."

But there was more to come. DeRoux would go on to complete two of his most ambitious art projects to date and would later learn he had been selected to receive the governor's award for individual artist of 2008 by the Alaska State Council on the Arts.

"It's been a terrific year," he said. "It's been a great year."

DeRoux was born in Juneau in 1951 and, with the exception of a year away at art school in Nova Scotia and a five-year stint in San Francisco, he has called the capital city home ever since.

After watching his older brother paint as a child, DeRoux began dabbling in the medium and found his calling.

"I just decided one day in 1971 that I was going to do it and keep doing it every day," he said. "I thought I would paint for 10 years and not worry about selling anything or marketing it just so I could figure out where I wanted to go with it and not be encumbered by marketing or that whole end of it."

DeRoux sold a painting that first year and soon won a statewide juried art show in Alaska, the first of many accolades he would acquire over the years.

"I didn't really set out to try and do anything with it, but good things started happening right away and I thought, 'Hey, this is a pretty good gig,'" he said. "So I just kept at it and have loved being and working in Alaska."

DeRoux relocated to California from 1979 to 1983 and found further success with his art, but the pace of life in Alaska eventually called him back home.

"I got in a lot of competitions and got a lot of accolades in California, so that was good to know," he said. "It gave me that knowledge that I could hold my own there, but coming back to Alaska it is not highly competitive and you can kind of breathe a little easier. I feel more at home here and I feel like my roots are here and my material is all kind of based in where I grew up. I feel like this is a really good place to be and work."

DeRoux has honed his skills over the years and describes his painting style as "contemporary Alaskan realism."

"I deal with a lot of icons, whether they are art historical icons or whether they are Alaskan icons, religious icons," he said. "It plays with art themes. It's hard to actually label it ... sometimes I make a lot of paintings that don't have anything to do with Alaska. I don't like to be pigeonholed necessarily."

Last month DeRoux completed one of the most ambitious projects he has yet to take on. He was commissioned to paint a mural titled "Focus on Statehood" by the city of Anchorage for the Linny Pacillo parking garage as the project's "1 percent for art" allocation; according to state statute, 1 percent of the construction costs of public buildings must be set aside for permanent art displays. The mural includes 512 individual paintings that form the likeness of Alaska statehood icons Bob Atwood, Bill Egan, Bob Bartlett and Ernest Gruening.

"It was a long time planning the engineering of it and the design of it and seven weeks to get it done," DeRoux said, adding that he spent at least 10 hours a day painting the individual images during that period.

"All the people in it were people who were involved with the constitutional convention and there are also Native leaders who were proponents of statehood and other people who were advocates of statehood," as well as other Alaska images, he said.

DeRoux said he fondly remembers June 30, 1958, the day the U.S. Congress voted to admit Alaska to the union. He watched as the American flag was raised in front of the Juneau library and then went to the large bonfire celebration downtown at the subport.

"To kind of be able to revisit that day and have the sense of continuity and contribution is really, really fulfilling," he said.

It is also fulfilling to be able to contribute to the community and work to improve the quality of life in Juneau and have it acknowledged, DeRoux said.

He recently completed another ambitious "1 percent for art" project, the "Encryption Wall" at the newly dedicated Thunder Mountain High School in the Mendenhall Valley. DeRoux had read about an art piece commissioned by the Central Intelligence Agency on the East Coast that contained a secret code.

"I thought, 'That's a great concept,'" he said. "So this is a variation on that."

DeRoux spent many months researching images from a multitude of symbol systems ranging from science to ancient languages to create the wall. The first student to decipher the wall's hidden message will receive an academic scholarship from the University of Alaska Southeast, he said.

"I thought it would be great to encourage students to look into history and the sciences and the arts and all these different various fields to try to flush out what this symbol means," DeRoux said. "It's more of a broad educational game."

And it might take a few years for the code to be cracked, he said.

"It can be figured out," he said. "It's not impossible, but it's not going to be a walk in the park."

Even with all the success DeRoux has achieved in 2008, he said he mostly hopes that people will find enjoyment in his art.

"Usually I like to have something fun in it," he said. "I like there to be humor in it so people can enjoy it and look at an Alaskan art theme that is not just a straight or, I don't want to say boring - I want it to have a little humor and life in it."

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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