Dean Bauche: 'Not just putting art up on the wall'

It's been three years since local artist Dean Bauche retired from his position as director of galleries for the City of North Battleford, but he's not done working yet.

Bauche is looking forward to his first show in North Battleford in years. He sees his "retirement" as more of a transition from administration - which he enjoyed - back to consulting, painting and teaching - which excites him. He's been preparing a major exhibition that will be seen at the Chapel Gallery in October.

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"I haven't shown in North Battleford for years," says Bauche, an award-winning artist, curator, educator and adjudicator.

Although people had spoken to him about doing a show during the time he was heading up the City's galleries department, he says, "I was the director for 22 years and for that reason you're cautious that you don't use your position for your personal interests."

Besides, he says, he wouldn't have had the time to put a show like this together during those years. Even after retirement it's been a challenge, he says, as there are always other things going on that steal him away from his studios. Bauche has two studios, one in his Battleford home and the other at Brady Coulee in the Cypress Hills, between which he and his wife Barb split their year.

The show he's building up to will be a milestone for Bauche.

"A lot of times when we see artists have a show, we never think about the fact they are actually working on it for years."

It's something that is worked up to and anticipated, he says.

"These are major events in artist's lives, and a lot of us take that kind of thing for granted," says Bauche. "I think it's incumbent on us as artists to say that's how important these things are."

It's not just putting art up on the wall, he explains, it's an opportunity for dialogue with ethe public and an opportunity to show what the artist has been doing over the last number of years, because a show is more often than not several years in the making. The working title for Bauche's show is Visual Tension - Recent Work by Dean Bauche. Some of the pieces go back at least five years, he says.

"But in the continuum of things, that's recent work. None of it has been exhibited in a public exhibition."

A number of the pieces planned for the show are ones he has already sold, so he will be bringing them back for the exhibition.

Most are substantial in size, as well, including some heavy pieces of copper weaving, an art form that has found its way into his retinue of creative endeavours.

Bauche is perhaps best known for his portraiture, and when the exhibition opens viewers will see he is moving his portrait pieces in a new direction. Bauche describes it as the bringing in of broken elements, or what he calls fragmentation. An artist who actively pursues relationships with other artists as a way to grow and create, he looks to Manitou Beach artist Darrell Baschuk (see inset) as having been an influence in his new direction.

"Fragmentation is incongruent but gives permission to the viewer to make up more information," says Bauche. "I've always liked work to give me license to look at it in my own way and focus on what I want to."

He says his role as a mentor to other artists also helped him solidify where he next wanted to go with his own art.

Last year and the year before, Bauche traveled back and forth to Flin Flon, Man. for a residency mentoring artists at the Northern Visual Arts Centre, or NorVA, an artists' collective, gallery and community arts space.

While working with the artists there, he began to build heavier design and more visual impact into the representational work he was doing. His portraits were moving away from being reliant on the representational element in the piece as the singular focus.

"I've always believed that shouldn't be the case, but my work with NorVA pushed me into developing a strong sense of design to allow the design element to carry as much weight as the portrait," says Bauche.

It will be at NorVA that Bauche's new show will debut. It will be on exhibit in Flin Flon for September, then move to the Chapel Gallery in North Battleford for the month of October and part of November. There are other exhibitions planned, but not yet finalized.

Most of Bauche's portraits are done from photographs. He says it can be an imposition to ask people to pose live because it can be a demanding process that has to begin with finding a level of comfort between subject and artists. He usually works live only with friends and family. Fellow portrait artist from his hometown of Eastend, Bronwyn Schuster, has posed live for him because, as he says, she understands the process.

"Portrait people kind of hang out together because we're the only people that understand us," he laughs.

Not all his portraits are of people he knows well, however.

The portrait in the photograph accompanying this story is of a young Australian girl he chanced to meet on a ferry going to Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands). He noticed her watching as he drew portraits of children on the ferry and handed them out, so he asked if he could take her photograph.

It was funny, he said, because she wanted to fix her hair first - she'd been wrapped up in a blanket, sleeping, during the trip. He told her she was fine the way she was.

"I came away and knew there was a painting there," says Bauche. "She has such an intense power with her eyes, and the thing about it is I don't even know her name."

In order not to lose what he sees in a subject in real life, he uses a high dynamic range photographic process.

"It's really quite wonderful," says Bauche. "I actually teach courses [on HDR] because there is so much richness you need to get and build on with the human figure."

Bauche says, if you are painting live, it's all there. But if you only take a snapshot, you leave three quarters behind.

"I'm really into technology," he says. "I really see it as my sketchpad."

Many of Bauche's pieces are designed, at least initially, on his iMac. Once his photo files are on his computer, he begins to play, as in "what kind of dance do I want with this."

He may have a piece's colour preliminaries on the computer, then, as with all things, he says, it will begin to tell him what it wants to be.

"It becomes intuitive," he says. "If you are too anal trying to keep it exacting, it looks that way. All of us struggle for spontaneity, we want it to feel natural, that's the challenge."

In addition to his trademark portraits, some of which he is still working on, the show will also include about 30 encaustic pieces he has been preparing over the summer.

"Encaustics are another kind of universe unto themselves," says Bauche. "Like copper, it's not as exacting a process. You can interpret things a little more loosely."

Encaustic is a process of adding wax or resin to a photograph, painting or drawing, building up layers, often over-painting and adding more. One of the pieces he will be showing is encaustic on a photograph of two ravens taken by one of the artists he mentored in Flin Flon.

He feels fortunate to be connected with so many other artists through mentoring and teaching, perhaps inheriting that aspect from his parents, who were both teachers, as was his grandmother. His father was also a respected artist.

"I'm always seeing the value of other artist's work and the excitement it brings, and every so often you get to collaborate."

Some of his collaborations are even with his children. He and his wife raised five kids, two girls and three boys, all of them artistically and/or musically talented, and now have three grandchildren.

He says computer technology has changed the landscape of how artists express their creativity, including exploring digital sound and music.

"In some ways I am very lucky because I do that as well through my art, so I am related to it. I am not a Luddite and disconnected," he laughs.

Bauche's studio is brimming with work that looks like it could be finished, but might not be. When it is, it usually tells him.

"If it's not signed, it's not done," he laughs.

It's normal for him to be working on many pieces at one time.

"One piece takes so much energy you can't keep giving it, you have to move away and work on something else.

That's why he enjoys working with other artists.

"They know the process."

Bauche also likes mentoring and encouraging emerging artists. The annual retreat he holds in the Cypress Hills is heavily committed to making young emerging artists, he says.

"The range of artists who turn out is quite remarkable," he says.

The retreat attracts about 30 artists from across western Canada, including playwrights, poets and visual artists, and about half of them are typically under 30 years old, says Bauche.

The retreat is held at the Bauche's summer home. There are three houses on the property, plus lots of room for tenting, and there is an artist's studio on the property as well.

Bauche sees their discovery of the property one day while on their annual holiday to the Cypress Hills as meant to be.

"I was born down in Eastend and my wife and I always went down there every year even when raising our kids. We always had this incredible love for the hills."

Bauche grew up finding dinosaur bones in the ditches and soaking up the ancient mystery of the area now famous for the discovery of Scotty, the T-Rex. However, he laughs, "Almost ironically, my wife loves the hills even more than I do in the sense that she's so deeply committed to them."

They always wanted to buy a place in the Cypress Hills eventually.

They actually found a property in Brady Coulee that had been developed by a man whose wife had been a visual artist. There was a working studio already on the property.

"Life is strange," says Bauche. "How does that happen?"

They will now be living six months in Battleford and six months in the Cypress Hills.

People are affected by living in the closed spaces of towns and cities, says Bauche. On their Cypress Hills property, they are always out and about. The house itself has verandahs on three sides so they are more in touch with the day.

"Although I'm not a landscape artist per se, those elements come strongly through my work," says Bauche.

This summer, Bauche will be working with fellow Saskatchewan artist Darrell Baschuk to create a mural for Prince Edward Island's celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference. The mural will be titled Saskatchewan on the Waterfront.

"The idea right now is to create this large expansive landscape with thunderous clouds and on the horizon see this sea-going vessel pulled by four horses," says Bauche.

The ancestors of almost everyone of European descent in Saskatchewan today found their way here by sea-going vessel, says Bauche.

"It's part of Saskatchewan's legacy, whether we acknowledge it or not."

Bauche says this province shares a legacy with the maritime provinces, whose shores were touched first by almost all the people who emigrated to Saskatchewan,

"The mural is intended to be provocative that way and to speak about history and to challenge some of its ideas - and in the end it's intended to be a bit of a metaphor because all of us, in our own lives and our own ways, build boats to return home."

Bauche says the work he calls his Boat Series is done with this idea always in the back of his head.

"That's what we're doing in our lives, because we know, in a sense, like Tom did, we really don't belong here," says Bauche. "We are just temporary here."

The Tom he speaks of is Tom Sukanen, a Finnish immigrant who died at Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford, institutionalized after trying to build a sea-going boat to return to his homeland. If you haven't heard this remarkable story, visit

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