Artist Spotlight: Ben Bauer
Artist Spotlight: In Conversation with Ben Bauer
In this exclusive interview, Rehs Contemporary gallery owner, Alyssa Rehs, delves into the artistic world of Ben Bauer, a painter whose work has captivated their audience for over a decade. With a keen eye for detail and a passion for exploring the nuances of color, Ben shares insights into his creative process, inspirations, and the stories behind some of his most significant works. Join Alyssa as she uncovers the artist behind the canvas and gains a deeper understanding of the narratives that shape his art.
Alyssa Rehs (AR): Ben, could you share a bit about your background and the initial inspiration that propelled you into pursuing a career in art?
Ben Bauer (BB): When I was young, I was completely blown away by an oil painting of wood ducks by David Maass at a Wild Wings print store. My mom was shopping for a holiday gift with pheasants for my dad. While she was busy making a purchase, I found myself transported to a world that was amazing to me, how could a human do that? I could not fathom how a person could create such art. In that moment, I told myself, "I want to do that." That feeling and urge never faded, and now, 30 years later, here I am.
AR: Your artistic journey has taken various paths, from wildlife art to the Plein Air movement. How has your style evolved, and what milestones have shaped your creative journey?
BB: I immersed myself in wildlife art, focusing on upland game birds and waterfowl in their natural habitats, paying homage to the landscapes they inhabit. As I honed my skills and techniques, it tapped into my emotional senses, leading me to pursue this passion through college. After graduating and before the Plein Air trend took off, I spent five years extensively painting outdoors, rarely completing studio work. This period taught me a lot about my art, helping me discover my voice with paint and refining my skills.
In late 2011, I connected with Howard through social media. If you explore the Rehs Gallery archive, you'll notice the shifts in my approach over the years. Emotion, connectivity, design, and color embody the culmination of my experiences, keeping me eager and on my toes for the next chapters!
AR: Your preferred medium is oil, and you have a distinctive approach to techniques. Could you share why oil resonates with you, and how your techniques contribute to your unique style?
BB: I predominantly work with oil paint, making up 90% of my artistic endeavors. The flexibility and temperament of oil paint suit my painting sessions perfectly. I consider myself a self-proclaimed art materials junkie; I am dedicated to learning about surfaces, mediums, brushes, and auxiliary tools that enhance the way paint moves. Over the past 15 years, I have focused on implementing best practices in painting to ensure collectors receive artwork crafted with the highest quality materials.
While techniques may evolve, I believe they should support your style and creative personality. In my work, I strive to create intriguing and transparent juxtapositions that play with space. When viewed up close, the paintings may appear juicy, chunky, and almost chaotic, but stepping back reveals an illusion that comes together cohesively.
AR: Walk us through your creative process. How do you conceive and develop a new artwork?
BB: Inspiration strikes me at the most unexpected moments—while driving, sharing laughs with my daughters, in dreams, listening to music, reminiscing, studying paintings and drawings, and scrolling through my extensive photo library. In the studio, I have a habit of turning all my works around, distancing myself from the images. I find joy in leaving pieces at various stages and revisiting them weeks, months, or even years later to see where they can evolve.
I strongly believe in the concept of the "mind's eye." In that I mean, I can internally visualize how I want a painting to look in the end. Sometimes, this vision doesn't align with the final result, taking a new and unexpected direction. Other times, it is dead on.
AR: Your art aims to evoke emotions. What responses or feelings do you hope viewers experience, and is there a specific message you aim to convey?
BB: All around us are beautiful things! I enjoy creating paintings that resonate with my own experiences—ideas that transport me back to specific moments in time where I felt a deep connection. I like to think I am walking up to a particular aspect of a painting, aiming to enhance its authenticity. I believe that once I achieve that, the viewer can also sense the truthfulness in the artwork. I find immense satisfaction in hearing when my paintings evoke memories from the past for others, making them feel as if the artwork has become a part of their own experiences.
AR: Are there specific artists, movements, or life experiences that have profoundly impacted your work?
BB: Every morning and evening, I find myself immersed in studying the work of other artists. While there are numerous contemporary artists I greatly admire, to be fair, I will mention deceased artists whom I consider the greats—Owen Gromme, Carl Rungius, and Francis Lee Jaques. These individuals played a crucial role in shaping my ideas, and I hold them in high regard for their dedication to the outdoors.
Revisiting areas I have been to in the past is always significant for me because I perceive the landscape differently with each visit. This experience fuels a passion for travel, specifically for study and collecting reference material.
AR: Your works often explore moonlit landscapes and farm life. Are there recurring themes or concepts you find consistently drawing you in?
BB: Several of my artworks explore the moonlight, something familiar to all of us at some point in life. There's a mysterious calmness to moonlit scenes across all seasons, particularly in winter, where the colors of the night are nuanced and breathtaking. Many of these scenes feature farms, influenced by my proximity to farms while growing up and having roommates from farming families. This allowed me to appreciate the beautifully challenging and rewarding lives they lead. The elements of a farmyard have long held a place in my memory from hunting on rented farmlands in western Minnesota.
Currently, I find myself captivated by patterns, color, natural design, and composition. What excites me most is that these elements transcend various art genres, opening another avenue of creativity for me. I am eager to see where this artistic exploration takes me!
AR: What three pieces of your artwork do you feel hold the most significance to you, and could you share the reasons behind their importance in your artistic journey??
BB: Three notable paintings from the past 10 years stand out to me, and they are relatively recent:
1. Sauk Rapids Farm By Moonlight - 2016: This painting was born from my first experience in the countryside at night under a full moon, adjusting my eyes to perceive the true colors around me. After completing this painting, it gave me chills, feeling as if I were standing by the side of the road.
2. I Skymningen - 2021: This painting marks a departure from the grayer, tonalist palette as I began incorporating more chroma into my paint mixtures. While the painting appears predominantly blue in person, surprisingly, there is very little actual blue in it. A meaningful text exchange with a dear friend shifted my perspective on color use, and I'm grateful for such insightful colleagues.
3. On Winter Walks, Scandia MN - 2023: Created in about four hours over a few painting sessions, this piece was posted on social media on a whim. Surprisingly, it gained popularity among both followers and non-followers. I have been closely examining the design and elements within the image to understand the impact that garnered such a response.
AR: For emerging artists starting their journey, what advice do you have?
BB: The most valuable advice I ever received came from two artists whom I greatly admire. In 1994, during a visit to Ron Van Gilder's studio with my dad, he said, "Drawing is the fundamental part of making a picture work. Draw! Draw! Draw!!" My dad continued to echo that line to me frequently after our visit.
In 2006, feeling the desire, yearning, and frustration to make it in the art world, Marc Hanson told me, "Ben, focus on painting and just that. All the other things will fall into place."
Now, I'm embarking on my lifelong journey to teach others who are eager to learn. With skills and knowledge in all aspects of being a painter, my goal is to share that with anyone seeking it!
For emerging artists, my advice is to find the time to make it work. Embrace both failures and successes. Experience frustration but stay encouraged. Study other art and artists. As questions. Seek answers.
As we conclude this interview with Ben Bauer, we have had the privilege of gaining a glimpse into the mind of a dedicated and talented artist. From moonlit landscapes to vibrant color palettes, Ben's journey through the realms of art has been both captivating and inspiring. We thank him for sharing his experiences, perspectives, and the stories embedded in his paintings, leaving us with a richer appreciation for the world he brings to life on canvas.