‘“I leased the place because the counter, swivel stools, and mirror were still intact,” says Bob Bauer a photographer working in a renovated drugstore on Salt Lake City’s west side.
That was the first sentence of my first article for The Salt Lake Tribune, March 13, 1994, as its new art critic. I reviewed a three-person exhibition showing the work of Bob Bauer, Ed Dolinger, and Jeff Juhlin (curated by Arley Curtz, the former director of Bountiful/Davis Art Center).
When spending time interviewing an artist and examining his or her work, a friendship often ensues. That was the case between me and these three talented artists. Ed Dolinger now lives in Bassett, Virginia, where he teaches and continues his work as a sculptor. Jeff Juhlin now concentrates on encaustic painting and works out of his two studios, one on Salt Lake City’s west side and the other in Torrey, Utah. Bob Bauer, however, died of esophagus cancer on June 11th. He was 65.
Who would think that the big, bushy haired, rose growing, desert rat bear of a guy like Bob Bauer wouldn’t be around forever. His influence in Utah’s arts community as an artist, consultant, and volunteer, however, will remain as a legacy of service. He was a member of the Salt Lake City Arts Council and the long-time President of the Intermountain Chapter of the American Society of Magazine Photographers. [And in the virtual world, as a 3D artist working under the avatar name of Scarp Godenot, he produced works as a sculptor, painter, and space builder.] He was a friend to many and avid hiker who loved Southern Utah.
Although Bauer was a commercial photographer by trade, he was an artist at heart. His unaltered abstract photographs were exhibited frequently—works of integrity that show emotion and finely-tuned technical skill.
His work over the years has remained consistent in quality, approach, and execution, never boring, always inspirational. The 1994 review of his work could have been written today. And his abstract work sets a standard for his colleagues with its vitality, internal design, use of color, and quality of workmanship.
Bauer’s “Real Abstract Imagery” exhibition of recent works, curated last fall by Donna Poulton at Evolutionary Health Care, was a continuation of his abstract portfolio, and, as it turned out, a final affirmation of his determination to explore the abstract in the world around us. He told Poulton that “reality is mostly abstract. Most people don’t notice the beautiful decay as they pass by.”
Poulton said Bauer thrilled with the “chase he experienced while searching for his subjects” and “sussing out the beauty in one square inch of metal among acres of scrap.”
She and husband Jim have collected several pieces of Bauer’s photographs, “always finding each new work a familiar surprise—much of the abstract imagery seeming like an open lens on the universe and of course, laughing out loud at his titles,” she said.
Part of what sustained Bauer’s creativity and enthusiasm was, as Poulton noted, the way he found his subjects.
The search was as fulfilling as the act of taking the picture. The 1994 review stated “he revels in finding the ‘beauty’ in abandoned, forgotten or stored materials around him, close-up shots of just about anything in a state of decay, disrepair or disintegration.” His photographs were “captured, not created” and he hunted “his abstract images down” and snatched “them with a click.”
Bauer’s favorite time to go on photo junkets to “condemned buildings, auto graveyards and abandoned industrial facilities” was on Sunday mornings. He said that a “rusty, old abandoned industrial site will have 10 acres of stuff and a watchman that only works the 40-hour week.”
Bauer’s art portfolio also includes images of realistic landscapes, still lifes, and flowers. He especially loved roses, not only to photograph, but to grow, filling his garden with over 400 varieties “that enchanted everyone; from casual visitors to professional rosarians,” as stated in his obituary.
Bauer had three loves: Mary J. Woodhead, his wife and partner for 39 years, exploring Utah’s mountains and deserts (at university he majored in geology and “questioning authority”), and his gardening. Where, then, did his art stack up? He wove it into all that he did. His finished works were just a hint of “a love for the joys of living that never wavered” and seeing beyond the surface into the wonders of humanity and the natural world.
A big hearted man, wrapped in Hawaiian shirts, and brimming with joy and laughter. That’s the Bob Bauer I remember when I explore nature’s wonders and when I stop to smell the roses.
Frank McEntire, former executive director of the Utah Arts Council, is a sculptor, independent curator, and arts administrator and was the art critic for The Salt Lake Tribune and Salt Lake City magazine.
You can see Bob’s work here: @bobbauerart on Instagram and scarpgodenot on tumblr.