First Friday: Mountains, snowboarding, nudes and pinwheels

Posted: Thursday, October 02, 2003

For 10 years, Juneau artist and museum curator Ken DeRoux has kept a tattered original copy of John Ruskin's 1857 book "Modern Painters of Modern Beauty" lying in his studio.

The book, a gift to DeRoux from a friend, is as much about painting as it is about art, science, geology and mountaineering. He hasn't read it, but he has turned to it for inspiration.

"From time to time I'd leaf through it, and little bits of it have made it into paintings in the past," said DeRoux, a Juneau native and third-generation Alaskan known in town for his landscapes.

His new exhibit, "The Ruskin Series," reflects parts of the book. Like his landscapes, all 24 pieces are themed on mountains and mountaineering. Most of the works are based on one of Ruskin's geological diagrams, a "jumping-off point" to explore "color and design and patterns," DeRoux said. A few of the pieces include pages torn out of the book and assembled collage-style.

"The Ruskin Series," a collection of works from the last two years, opens at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3, at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council gallery as part of the First Friday art walk. It includes oils, acrylics and works on paper in crayon, pen, pencil and collage.

"The paintings that I've done have been mountain landscapes that I made up out of my head," said DeRoux, 57, the curator of museum services at the Alaska State Museum. "At this point last year I was looking for new ideas to try something a little more different, not so much making up scenes."

DeRoux also uses elements from Edward Whymper's "Scramble Amongst The Alps," a 19th-century book on mountaineering. The result is an abstract amalgamation of geometric forms, paneled, crystalline textures, abrupt explosions of color and heroic, sometimes daunting, mountain scenes. It's a little bit like a graphic novel and a little bit like the last difficult steps before you reach the top of a peak.

Ruskin (1819-1900) was a famous English art critic from the Victorian period. "Modern Painters of Modern Beauty" was the fifth book in his "Modern Painters" series (1843-1860), a collection that celebrated the mountain and seascape works of English painter Joseph Turner and explored the principles of art. "Modern Beauty" is more about mountaineering than painting.

"To the 19th-century Victorians, the mountains were a chaotic wilderness, and the religious underpinning is how there's order in all the chaos," DeRoux said. "It sort of precedes chaos theory and fractal geometry. He sees elements in the smallest fragments of rock. He sees elements of ridge lines of the mountains that it came from. He makes diagrams, and he draws lines."

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