Bannard at Jacobson Howard
Post #1011 • May 29, 2007, 2:58 PM • 26 Comments
Manhattan—Thoreau once said that no man ever followed his genius until it misled him. It could be true, or at least unfalsifiable, if we distinguish between following it triumphantly and following it with our stumbling human feet. I think most of us are forced to do the latter, if even that. Today I put up two essays in which Walter Darby Bannard recounts what it's like to be an artist, and there is a common theme in them - you spend a lot of time in a state of unknowing, and that state is confusing and painful to the degree to which you have preconceptions about what is supposed to happen with your work. And yet, with not even a vague initial idea about what to work on, you would never create anything. What distinguishes a conception from a preconception? It's a tough problem.
Pace Thoreau, I believe it's a problem you can only solve by traipsing down a few garden paths. The simple paintings that Bannard made in the late '50s and early '60s, several of which are on display at Jacobson Howard, speak of a certain amount of misplaced seriousness, but not so misplaced that it didn't result in some handsomely austere successes. If they didn't inform his later work except as such things often do in an artists life - by using up a line of inspiration, which finally dies, and mulches into the loam that nurtures future bursts of inspiration - they significantly predate work executed afterwards by self-described minimalists and artistically exceeds most if not all of it.
The best of them glow by sheer force of color combination, taking advantage of the effect described astutely by Clement Greenberg that more blue is bluer than less blue. The larger ones are person-sized, and they envelop the viewer in their expansive simplicity. The smaller ones are engagingly odd, particularly one built around a shape that seems to have been traced from a clothes iron, evincing something like dry wit. They relate stylistically to contemporaneous works by Frank Stella (who attended the opening), but are lighter in tone both in color and emotion. Although no expert, I concur with Walter Robinson that they're a bargain - Bannard has continued to work unabated since then, and he is producing paintings with luscious, fluid shapes and striking palettes. As Bannard wrote in 1976, "There is something about this art which demands time, a long apprenticeship." Having served that apprenticeship, it's not inappropriate to refer to him now as a master.