Dirk Bach was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on 27 November, 1939. Four years later, the family moved to Denver, Colorado, where his father, Otto Karl Bach, was appointed Director of the Denver Art Museum, a position he held for the next 35 years. His mother, Cile Miller Bach, a journalist, became the museum’s publication editor and registrar. As a perquisite, the director was provided with an unusual residence in a carriage house appended to a late 19th century mansion located in the center of the city which housed an extensive collection of native American arts.
His early interests in art and music were encouraged by his parents and their friends and associates, who were local and visiting painters, poets, sculptors, lecturers, educators, and collectors. He attended East High school, where he played piano in jazz combos and orchestras, frequently accompanying singer Judy Collins. Music continued to be his extra-curricular mainstay while attending Colgate University; his jazz group performed on many college campuses and occasionally in clubs in New York City.
In 1958, after enrolling in a drawing class, he discovered a strong interest in creating images, an urge dormant until then, and decided to pursue studies in the visual arts. He transferred to the University of Denver where he obtained a BFA in 1961 and an MA in 1962, in painting. He exhibited in regional shows and received first prize at the 1961 Mid-America Annual Exhibition organized by the Nelson Galleries in Kansas City. He enrolled in a Far Eastern Art history program at the University of Michigan, and in 1963 won a series of National Defense Language Fellowships to study Mandarin. During this time, he traveled in the orient: Japan, Taiwan, India, and Southeast Asia.
In 1965, he joined the faculty at the University of New Hampshire art department, where he taught drawing, painting, design, and printmaking. He also developed a course in exhibition design to coordinate with his role as director of the Scudder Gallery. His own visual images took on new dimensions: first as series of imprisoned figures based on the contemporary play Marat/Sade, then as landscapes reflecting the environment of coastal New Hampshire and the communities along the edge of Great Bay. The pop art influence encouraged a series of iconic postage stamps commemorating American atrocities; this series coalesced into a Ramparts magazine article, “The Stamp Collection of Dirk Bach” in November ,1968.
The following year, he left the University of New Hampshire for the Rhode Island School of Design, where he taught for the next 25 years. He taught art and architectural histories of Japan, China, India, and contemporary America. He also taught design. His own studio work focused on landscape mandalas inspired by a National Endowment to the Humanities grant for travel to temples in Nara and Kyoto, Japan, and on Buddhist “Pure Land” diagrams based on imagery in the Lotus Sutra and Heart Sutra. These new works led to several exhibitions and speaking engagements.
From 1974 to 1975, he served as director of the Rhode Island School of Design’s European Honors Program in Rome. The travel and administrative responsibilities allowed little time for studio work, but he did produce some colored pencil drawings on paper of the Baroque Italian cityscape, which were exhibited at the Palazzo Cenci in the spring of 1975.
When he returned to resume his Rhode Island School of Design teaching, he relocated to Newport, Rhode Island, where he briefly participated in a commercial fishing community and began a series of large oil paintings of fish still-lives. These still-lives were shown in a 1977 one-man exhibition at the Newport Art Museum. He assumed the chair of the art history department at Rhode Island School of Design, and in 1990 became president of the faculty association. During these years, he created a series of interior still-life drawings in graphite on paper, a medium in which he continues to work.
In 1992, following the death of his parents, he resigned his position at the Rhode Island School of Design and moved to a secluded 18th century colonial farm in rural Rhode Island, where he built walking trails, structures, and gardens, and worked in his drawing and painting studio. His recent drawings of wooden boats in grassy fields reflect both his continued interest in far eastern art and his celebration of renewed personal vitality as a cancer survivor.
In 2007, he moved to Jackson Heights, New York, where he lived and shared a studio with the painter Kay WalkingStick. The couple married in 2012 and moved to Easton the following year; they bought and refurbished an 1880's townhouse which serves as living quarters, studios, library, and office.