John Bankston: The Sky Above Us
Walter Maciel Gallery, Culver City
Through June 30
By Shana Nys Dambrot
The predicated, corollary, problem-solving relationship between line and color that unfolds across a pristine coloring book animates the paintings of John Bankston. It’s a stylistic and material process he sets up for himself, by first drawing directly on the canvas before reaching for his palette. But it’s also a dynamic amplified by qualities of image and content within the compositions themselves. A serial, if not linear, narrative with recurring characters and motifs gives his exhibitions the feeling of story; the charming eccentricities, economies of scale, wonderful costumes, props and settings suited to fairytale and folklore, and the consistency of the protagonist make it a storybook.
The somewhat schematic, stocky, and compressed way of depicting the universe of these paintings hearkens to aspects of Outsider and illustration-based artists. At the same time, Bankston not only employs this down-to-earth drawing style to portray fantastical scenes, but in bringing these to life makes use of sophisticated color-blocking, modelling and shading, and gestural texture. The result is that deconstructing the elements of the scene, the eye is offered a series of contained color fields. This is one signal that the artist is up to something more than a nostalgic stylistic citation. He creates pictorial space and dynamic surfaces that are more than just flat or uniform. As abstract passages, each shape gets more complex with deeper contemplation. This strategy moves the eye ,even as the images themselves move the mind, so that the whole alternates between archetype and anomaly.
There are also more overt references to art history, especially to Cubism, and especially to the instances where Picasso made a figure into a sort of biomorphic kaleidoscope that retains its humanity and emotional expressivity, even in the aftermath of realism’s subversion. In a fact a “tool” for doing this action appears in the main figure’s hand periodically across the works. But despite the range of sophisticated techniques and conceptual frameworks, the works undeniably present themselves within the children’s book idiom. Mainly, literature for children and young adults is tasked with ushering in some difficult or at least complex aspects of adulthood, and the use of fantastical imagery is a proven cognitive tactic to navigate those terrains. Often, the appeal of these stories lasts well beyond childhood, retaining or even growing their appeal as we grow older.
This could be a thing about nostalgia, but more than that, there is an undeniable power in the revisitation of one’s childhood things with the benefit of hindsight, and maybe a measure of wisdom. A deeper, closer understanding to the old books, or a fresh attraction to the new books of today’s youth (for example, Alice in Wonderland versus Harry Potter) proves that the appeal is not only about one’s personal memories but indicates a more general desire for the state of consciousness they tap into. One in which all things are possible, animistic, malleable, and mysterious. One where your job is to try on aspects of identity, alter egos, super-powers, spirit animals, and masks — until you find the mix that feels most like yourself, and nurture it.
What if, Bankston seems to inquire, life was like that the whole time, all the way through. What if the process of individuation lasted a lifetime? How that proposition plays out on these canvases mirrors how it might play out in the subconscious. Without text we are left to interpret the scenes, symbolism, and costumes at will — to insert ourselves into the stories, just as intended. With support of craft and concept, the artist shows how this can sometimes be not only the function of fantasy, but also the function of art.
2642 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90034