Fuelled by the Southern California surf culture of his youth, and the history and contemporary practices of abstraction, John Bauer produces abstract paintings that channel the infinite potential of both the Pacific Ocean and abstraction itself. Inspired by purists like Ad Reinhardt and Mark Rothko and postmodernists like Andy Warhol and Albert Oehlen, Bauer creates compositions using both traditional and unconventional means. His more traditional works are generated out of a process of daily interactions with his mid- to large-scale canvases, using brushes to build up, erase, and rework layers of gestural, exuberant marks. For his more experimental works, Bauer pulls from what he calls his “image bank” of Photoshop files. Using his computer, he crafts these images into compositions, which he then screen-prints in layers onto the canvas, creating works situated tantalizingly between the digital and the handmade.
American, b. 1971
John Bauer was born in 1971 in San Diego, California, and raised in La Jolla. Surfing was a childhood passion, and he admits to having made art for as long as he can remember. At school he was an able student and he initially chose to major in Business at the University of California, Santa Barbara, subsequently switching briefly to Art History and then to a BA in Studio Art when he realised he preferred to make art rather than write about it. One of Bauer’s early interests was post-war European painting and frequent trips to Los Angeles, including a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art’s seminal 1992 exhibition Helter Skelter, extended this to modern American art.
After graduating in 1993, Bauer returned to San Diego for nine months to work at the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art, where he was involved in installing pieces by such artists as Ed Kienholz, David Nash and Kim MacConnel. The following year he married Ingrid Baltzer, whom he had met at college, and the couple moved to New York. Excited to be on the east coast, the locus of Abstract Expressionism, Bauer immersed himself in the cultural life of the city and established his own studio in Manhattan, above the Clementine Gallery. Part-time employment took him to the studios of several artists, including David Lasry, an experimental print maker renowned for his collaborations with contemporary artists. At his Two Palms Press Bauer ran monoprints and editions for Sol LeWitt, Mel Bochner and Carroll Dunham, honing techniques that would form an important motif in his own work. Another person he assisted was the painter David Reed, whose emphasis on process and the layering of materials would also inform his practice.
In 1998 Bauer mounted his first solo show, New Oils, at the Clementine Gallery, and within a few years he was regularly exhibiting in New York and further afield. He was Visiting Artist at Pratt University, Brooklyn, and the recipient of a New York Arts Recovery Grant in 2002. His first solo show in Europe was White Out in 2007 at Gstaad in Switzerland. The following year, prompted by the birth of his son and his love of the west-coast lifestyle, he moved to Los Angeles, where he now lives and devotes all his time to painting.
Bauer describes his painting process as ‘intuitive’, originating from a bank of images and painterly marks he has amassed into Photoshop files and templates. He begins each piece with a low-resolution computer drawing placed onto linen, layering it up over time with multiples that overlap, cancel out, pixellate, refract and recombine to create an illusory spontaneity and gestural dynamism. Likewise his hands-off application techniques – including stencilling, silk screening and spray painting – challenge the concept of originality and personal mark making in an age defined by the silicon chip.
A second group of works self-consciously derives from previous paintings. Photographed and digitised originals become the source material for maquettes, which he enlarges and screen prints. Thus the multi-layered paintings additionally become multi-generational, echoing or ghosting earlier compositions and processes, commenting on the limitless possibilities for duplication and repetition afforded by technology. This sense of infinite, merging works can be related back to Bauer’s childhood – his love of surfing and the ocean allowing an easy exploration of scale and expansiveness.
The artist’s dark palette of blacks and greys, often with metallic elements or an added cyan or magenta, initially related as much to 1980s fashion and interior design as to Abstract Expressionism. Uniting the fake-shadow gesturing of urban art with the language of abstraction, he worked on a generous scale that was almost a spoof of its own grandiosity. His early titles were extreme, provocative, offensive, taking phrases from literature that suggested the play of intimacy and distance in his art. Since 2009 many pieces have been untitled; Bauer’s recycling forms its own continuity, each work impacting and defining the next.
Bauer’s work is held in a number of public and private collections worldwide, from Norway to the United States. In 2007 and 2008 he was Visiting Artist at the New York Center for Art and Media Studies and the School of Visual Arts in New York. Selected as one of just 32 artists to exhibit at the Saatchi Gallery’s 2009 exhibition, Abstract America: New Painting and Sculpture, Bauer has also taken part in the NADA Art Fair, Miami, Florida (2006), the Armory Show, New York (2007), and Art Basel (2010). In 2013 he was a recipient of the prestigious Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, awarded to individuals of recognisable talent who have worked as artists over a significant period. Halcyon Gallery is exhibiting new works by Bauer from 10 April to 10 May 2014.
1993 BA in Studio Art, University of California, Santa Barbara
2013 Black and Blue, Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles, California
2010 Sleight of Hand, Patricia Low Contemporary, Geneva, Switzerland
2009 John Bauer – Paintings, s.e Gallery, Bergen, Norway
2009 New Paintings, Van Bau Gallery, Vestfossen, Norway
2008 John Bauer, Maruani & Noirhomme, Knokke, Belgium
2007 White Out, Patricia Low Contemporary, Gstaad, Switzerland
2007 John Bauer, Bellwether Gallery, New York
2003 Free-Floating Anxiety, Bellwether Gallery, New York
1998 New Oils, Clementine Gallery, New York
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2015 The Art of Creating, Halcyon Gallery, London
2014 Halcyon New Contemporaries Spring 2014, Halcyon Gallery, London
2012 Ugly, Broke, Sober, Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts, New York
2012 Group Show, Patricia Low Contemporary, St Moritz, Switzerland
2010 5th Anniversary Exhibition, Patricia Low Contemporary, Geneva, Switzerland
2010 June Gloom, Country Club, Los Angeles, California
2009 Abstract America: New Painting and Sculpture, Saatchi Gallery, London
2005 New York’s Finest, Canada Gallery, New York
2004 Grotto II, Jessica Murray Projects, New York
2004 Hello Chelsea, Bellwether Gallery, New York
2003 Recession 2003, $99 show, Cynthia Broan Gallery, New York
2003 Launched, Jeff Bailey Gallery, New York
2002 Proper Villains, Space Untitled, New Haven, Connecticut
2002 End of the Rainbow, Bellwether Gallery, New York
2002 Grotto, Jessica Murray Projects, New York
2002 The Accelerated Grimace, Daniel Silverstein Gallery, New York
2002 Building Anxiety, Ten in One Gallery, New York
2001 John Bauer and Diana Puntar, Bellwether Gallery, New York
2001 Flat File, Bellwether Gallery, New York
1998 Winterland, The Lobby Gallery at Deutsche Bank, New York
1998 Summer Bonanza, Clementine Gallery, New York
1998 The Art Exchange Show, De Chiara/Stewart Gallery, New York
2015 The Armory Show, New York, NY
2014 Art Basel Miami, Miami, FL
2012 Art Brussels
2010 Art Basel, Switzerland
2008 Art Brussels
2007 Armory Show, New York
2006 NADA Art Fair, Miami, Florida
Malmö Art Museum, Sweden
Royal Collection, Norway
Saatchi Gallery, London
Carlos Mota Collection, New York
Speyer Collection, New York