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Winter Hills of Somerset, WI
Oil on panel
28 x 40 inches
Rehs Contemporary Galleries, Inc., New York City
Ben Bauer’s deep roots in the landscape of forests and high plains in the upper midwest are the source of his commitment to “recording a natural history” in his paintings. Like many people who have witnessed the continuing depletion of open land in once-pristine regions, Bauer is acutely aware of how quickly ecosystems can be damaged or destroyed; and how easily that loss can be justified under the auspices of economic development.
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1980, Bauer grew up in a family that introduced him to the pleasures of outdoor living, whether enjoying a summer weekend in the countryside or participating in annual duck-hunting expeditions. The sense of camaraderie among the men in his family as they tramped through river valleys and wetlands provided the younger boys, including Bauer, with both an education in the natural world and a personal awareness of the cycles of each season. Seen from this intimate perspective, the shift from spring to summer reveals a gradual unfolding, just as the tonal shifts from white to grey and brown in a winter landscape can only be understood when studied over time.
This sincere connection to the natural world ultimately led the young Bauer to turn his fondness for cartooning on his school notebooks to focus on drawing wildlife scenes instead. As he noted in a recent interview, “I’ve always had a pencil in my hand since fourth grade.” By eighth grade, he discovered wildlife painters and printmakers, such as David Maass, who specialized in waterfowl imagery; and soon thereafter, Bauer created his first entry for the Minnesota Junior Duck Stamp competition. The federally sponsored Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Contest (the “Duck Stamp”) was initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 as a source of funding for the conservation of wetlands and upland habitats throughout the US. Since that time, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System has been able to conserve over five million acres of land. In Minnesota, this program is complemented by the Department of Natural Resources which sponsors the Junior Duck Stamp competition as well. Although Bauer did not win the competition, he did place first among his age group--no small accomplishment in a field of 1100 student entries.
This early predilection for drawing provided the impetus for Bauer to take “every art course that was offered” in his North St. Paul high school, and ultimately led him to an art major at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, where he majored in painting. Although he was not overly impressed by what was then considered fashionable painting at the University, Bauer was introduced to a variety of technical and intellectual fields that would benefit him as an artist in the future. In addition, two of his professors, Tamara Brantmeier and Charles Lume, were especially instrumental in guiding Bauer to develop his own style.
Not surprisingly, Bauer has continued his art education on the internet. Like many artists, he has discovered art history online and has absorbed the work of artists as divergent as George Inness (1825-94) and the California landscapist, Edgar Payne (1882-1947). Bauer also notes that online sites for connecting with other contemporary artists have been an important source for sharing information and establishing a network of like-minded professionals.
Bauer’s work continues to evolve as he explores the imagery of the landscapes around him. A primary objective remains the preservation of these landscapes, whether it is a prairie restoration or the creation of land stewardship trusts to protect existing farmland from development. Because of this profound awareness of the land, Bauer’s paintings capture a strong sense of place, whether it is early spring along Elmo Creek or the vast horizon of a winter wheat field. Most recently, his oil paintings have also become studies in what he describes as “ever-changing and temperamental oil paint.” These works are further explorations in the nature of his medium, as well as reflections of the transitory qualities of seasonal cycles.