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Walter Darby Bannard - Then and Now

Post #1424 • November 30, 2009, 7:39 AM • 33 Comments

Walter Darby Bannard, Chimera, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 52 3/4 x 50 1/2 inches

Art Basel Miami Beach is nigh. I will be covering it for the New Criterion. A happy saunter through the Miami fair season requires triage of most of the opportunities to view art or otherwise divert oneself. The point of diminishing returns can arrive early. I dedicate most of my existence to art in one form or another, and even I have come out of the first week of December never wanting to look at it again. (The feeling passes. Hard exercise seems to help.)

So having a hit list is crucial. Mine is incomplete but it includes the official ABMB press reception on Wednesday, the reception for Miami's Independent Thinkers on Thursday (largely to see the multitalented Nicole Soden), and the beer and barbecue, frat-house style reception for Walter Darby Bannard at the Center for Visual Communications on Saturday. This last item promises the best art in town, and I'm not just saying that because I wrote the catalogue essay below.

For this exhibition Darby lined up 20 years' worth of painting - they were all prolific years - and determined that the work of the first few and the relatively recent were the most interesting. This kind of tough decision demands an objective reflection that few artists can claim. Darby saw that a certain kind of paint editing that he had used in the earlier work might make a more interesting foreground if slightly figurative. The fruits of the consummate application of this idea adorn these walls, and adorn them magnificently.

Ideas come in the studio one after another, and most of them turn out to be duds. It is like having a thick ring of keys; they all look the same, but only one unlocks the door. You try one after another, then suddenly, whoosh - a whole new vista opens up, and you work like a demon to capitalize on it. These recent paintings are great art, no less so for looking madcap, even circus-like. They are at once childlike and fully formed in a manner suiting the output of a master.

I had Darby as a teacher in graduate school at the University of Miami shortly after he came there from New York City in 1989. Chief among the many lessons I learned from him is the supreme importance of going to the studio day after day.

This sounds banal, perhaps, but by doing so for decades one can outlast the vagaries of the art world. Darby was an abstract painter during a time when the best American art was abstract. He exhibited widely and often, making original contributions to art through an unsurpassable dedication to making his art better and better, but fled a New York art world that by the late '80s had lost a sense of reality and was losing its appetite for serious modernist work. New York continues to drown in inanities, but it has grown large enough, and in some cases mature enough, to begin to recognize the triumph that his art represents, and he is now showing there successfully again.

An exhibition surveying Darby's work, his students' work, and his students' students' work is an imperative for Miami. Such a show would include a wide range of styles and media of uniformly high quality and a healthy immunity to artistic fashion. Miami needs this.

I've asked Darby to provide the times and address for the opening reception in the comments.

Elsewhere, I hear that the Robert Thiele career review at my erstwhile Miami gallery looks stunning. My San Diego gallery will be at Art Miami, which previews Tuesday night. All of you who plan to partake - what would you add?




November 30, 2009, 9:38 AM

Thanks for the plug, Franklin.

Reception for the Artist: Saturday, December 5, 2009 7:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.

Center for Visual Communication
541 NW 27th Street
Miami, Florida 33127
Phone 305-571-1415

Gallery hours: Tuesday – Friday 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays Noon to 5:00 p.m.

If you go to the web site you will see that he has also got a couple other shows going on in an adjoining building and a music group called the Disco Monkeys, which seemed to draw admiring reviews from my graduate students, one of whom is stoking up his smoker to produce masses of southern-style ribs. Should be quite a party.

BTW I glanced at the "independent thinkers" link. I can assure you that there are not that many independent thinkers in Miami.



November 30, 2009, 9:41 AM

I saw the show before the official opening (which is on 12/5, 7-10 PM, at 541 NW 27 St in the Wynwood area of Miami). It was very nice to have everything all to myself. It's an excellent, huge space, and the set-up looks very good. I counted close to 40 paintings, which is obviously a lot, especially given their generally large size. Everything looks strong, solid and assured.

A group of very large works, largely devoid of color and probably the oldest ones, struck me as somewhat Piranesi-like in a good way, abstractly architectural, with a predominance of black. I especially liked a more recent piece, Extraextra (2/09), and one from mid 2008, Hoodoo (both look better in person, especially "Extraextra").

The very latest paintings (like "Chimera" above, dated 10/09) are fun, bright, playful and animated, like puppies, but perhaps a little unsettled or hyperactive. I think part of what I like about "Extraextra" is its simple but deft design with a serenity or self-possession that's by no means dull or inert, but composed, in the best sense, so that instead of sensory overload, the viewer is enticed to linger, explore and luxuriate in the lush, perfumed color--something along the lines of Baudelaire's luxe, calme et volupté. It's a wonderful picture, and there's plenty more where that came from.


Chris Rywalt

November 30, 2009, 11:26 AM

How cheaply can I get to Miami by Saturday?


Oriane Stender

November 30, 2009, 11:32 AM

Hey Franklin,

Allan Stone Gallery usually takes some pieces of mine to Miami (ABMB) but they move things around during the run of the fair, so my work may not always be up.

I overdose after 2 or 3 of the NY fairs, which I get to by subway, so I don't even attempt to deal with Miami. But I'm glad you're going.



November 30, 2009, 2:44 PM

As for the rest of the Basel week frenzy, not to say circus, I've gone from one extreme (trying to actually see everything, which is NOT advisable) to having to talk myself into seeing anything (except for something like the Bannard show, which is more or less an aberration, not because of Bannard, but because of how the art world currently operates). I'm very happy for him, but a show like his during ABMB is hardly typical, and credit is due to the venue (Center for Visual Communication) and its director for making it happen. Let's just say trendiness was not a determining factor.



November 30, 2009, 3:00 PM

Franklin, as far as the main Basel venue is concerned, I assume you've seen the official fair catalog, which I saw yesterday (saw, not bought). If admission was free or cheap (which it could be), I'd probably plow through the thing, but at $35, I rather doubt I'll bother. Of course I'll miss some nice things, largely by famous dead people, which is not exactly what the fair is supposed to be about.


Chris Rywalt

November 30, 2009, 3:02 PM

I wish Franklin had mentioned this sooner. I'd love to go, but at this late date...well, honestly, I probably wouldn't have been able to swing it given a year's notice, but now it's pretty much impossible. Airfare is near $500 and the bus takes, like, three days and only costs half as much.

Darn it.



November 30, 2009, 3:30 PM

Chris, you mean you're not tracking major art fair dates religiously on an ongoing basis? And you live in NY? No wait, you live in New Jersey. Well, that explains everything. You're not worthy, obviously.


Chris Rywalt

November 30, 2009, 4:00 PM

I got press passes to the New York art fairs last year. I meant to go but only managed one, the Bridge Fair, which is, like, a microfair in comparison. Even that wasn't very good and I never got around to writing it up.

Before I started my blog I went to the Armory Fair two years running. It was pretty terrible. Exhausting and mind-numbing, and so much of the art was so bad. It made me think either I'm the greatest artist alive today or I simply have no idea what good art is.

I do have a couple of fond memories. One was encountering the work of Yek which looks not very exciting online but which, in real life, is really pretty excellent. And I saw some Inka Essenhigh, but no one here probably likes her very much. I also met Inka there, but I think I scared her.

Anyway. Those couple of times through the fair cured me of wanting to go to another. I wouldn't have gone to Miami in any case, since that involves traveling, which I don't usually do. But for this Darby thing, man, I'd go.



November 30, 2009, 4:58 PM

Well, Chris, as I said, this Bannard show is not typical Miami Basel fare. I expect the gallery guy who went for it must be, uh, rather eccentric by artworld standards (even if he is hedging his bets with two other concurrent shows that are much more par for the course).



November 30, 2009, 5:07 PM

The problem with the arty explosion Miami briefly becomes during Basel week is that there's way too much stuff going on at once and far too little actually worth seeing. In other words, more is less, because the more one sees, the more one is reminded that it's a needle-in-haystack situation (I'm talking primarily about contemporary work).



November 30, 2009, 7:49 PM

Chris, if I'm not mistaken, Darby's show is running through February. You could catch it at a later date and actually find a hotel, which this weekend would be painful.


Chris Rywalt

November 30, 2009, 8:06 PM

I want to be there for the party! Also the paintings, but mostly the party!



November 30, 2009, 8:16 PM

Franklin, as for the "imperative" in the last part of your essay, don't hold your breath. Bannard's been in Miami 20 years now, and the local institutions like MAM and MOCA have had plenty of time and opportunity to do something with his work. They haven't, though they've put on things like clumsily "relevant," godawful schlock by Rosenquist, a super-slick, painfully inconsequential Vik Muniz extravaganza, and utterly ridiculous, infantile glass crap by some French guy whose 15 minutes probably ran out some time back. The local establishment, I'm afraid, is at best incorrigible.



November 30, 2009, 8:23 PM

Chris, I hate to break it to you, but this is Miami. You're not famous, rich and/or beautiful enough. The party is not for you, though I suppose you could come up with something like the pair of German transvestites in matching pink outfits.



November 30, 2009, 8:24 PM

Unless, of course, you meant Bannard's party, which is a different matter altogether.


Chris Rywalt

November 30, 2009, 8:29 PM

Yes, Darby's party, Jack. Maybe even a luminary like you would be there!

I'm living in New Jersey. Don't you think I know none of the real parties are for the likes of me?



November 30, 2009, 8:51 PM

I was there before the party, Chris, when they were just finishing putting up the paintings and the catalog wasn't ready yet. I had the entire, huge space all to myself, no distractions aural or visual, the way it should be. The only thing wrong with that picture is that others, with big money and major status, or institutional credentials, should have been there scoping out the show early like I was. Of course, I suppose it's Bannard's fault. He's just not disturbing enough (you know, like Paul McCarthy), or maybe he's simply too challenging for the visually challenged.



December 2, 2009, 12:20 AM

"Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”

-William A. Foster

Never heard of him but I came across the quote (in the header of a dog breeder's site!) and thought I'd share. Incidentally, there was a related Ruskin quote that came up next to it when I asked God who this Foster guy was.

Kudos to Bannard on the show. It'll be a serious treat for whoever gets the chance to take it in. I'll be wishing I was way, way south this weekend. Rock on Darby.



December 2, 2009, 9:51 AM

Thanks, Dude.

Here are a few art quotes for you:



December 2, 2009, 2:02 PM

does george bethea have a show going on as well?



December 2, 2009, 2:08 PM

also, has jack landed a space for his tea ceremony collection? how many pieces have you amassed thus far?



December 2, 2009, 2:17 PM

1, yes and it's a killer of a show. Its at edge zones. Best show Miami has had since the Olitski retrospective, hands down.



December 2, 2009, 2:24 PM

might be a miami weekend for me. i hope this guy does not screw up the ribs.



December 2, 2009, 2:33 PM

I believe the Bethea show was only up through November 25, unfortunately, though you can always check directly with the gallery.

As for the pots, keep in mind that most of the pieces I've posted here were/are not mine. Besides, unlike apparently everyone else in Miami, I'm not set on my own personal art venue.



December 3, 2009, 2:26 AM

thanks for the quotes Darby,

One my favorites so far:"Start a painting with fresh ideas, and then let the painting replace your ideas with its ideas," although somewhat canceled out by this one:"Asking art to express ideas is like asking a Sumo wrestler to play charades."

Maybe the truth lies somewhere in what's left.



December 3, 2009, 4:11 AM

David, here's my experience with the 'truth' you mention. The role of the artist is to help the art get to where it's going, and to keep it out of trouble in the course of its becoming what it is going to be. Sort of like raising a child. We don't create. We shepherd.



December 3, 2009, 8:00 AM

David, the difference lies between "using" ideas, ideas going into a painting, such as "I'm going to use more red this time", and "expressing" ideas, ideas coming out of a picture,ideas such as "red is the best color to use in a painting", or "we live in a wasteful consumer culture".

Ideas, or verbalized impulses, can be turned into material additions to a painting, but insofar as a painting "expresses" ideas it is only secondarily a painting, and is diminished thereby.



December 3, 2009, 9:16 AM

Keep the art out of trouble on its way to becoming what its going to be - like my 20 yr. old son - very good. And "let the painting replace your ideas with its ideas" is a wonderful description of how painting works. It also describes a way of looking at art. Very wise, very useful.



December 3, 2009, 10:17 AM

Good art, no matter how simple or casual-seeming, always carries a high density of choice.

When you are painting a landscape, assume the painting is real and the landscape is an illusion.

The struggle to be original hates conformity, but the struggle to be better disregards it, or takes advantage of it to build workable conventions.

(Darby Bannard)

These are a few that stand out for me. I use many of these terms quite frequently talking and thinking about art now. Specifically, the notion of 'density' I find very useful. The other one here, and there have been ringers on artblog of late which point to it also, is the importance of working conventions and their necessity to art. Right now I'm chewing on 'real'. Bannard has an ability to phrase things just so, encapsulating the 'facts' of specific and irreducible aspects of good art. He likes facts. I like his pragmatism. No stink, just honest reportage cued by real stuff. The best art writers use the same M.O. I've always thought that his being a painter, and a very fine one at that, gives him a leg-up when it comes to writing on the nuts and bolts of a material art. Everything he's written on Cubism should become part of the curriculum at any school still teaching the goods.

How's this...The density of convention is real. Good art takes advantage of the illusion of originality.



December 3, 2009, 11:27 AM

"Good art takes advantage of the illusion of originality."

And because originality is overrated (and misunderstood) by the market it might help sell something, one would hope.

You are right, I love facts. Many of the conclusions drawn from them I can do without, but true facts are like tapas - you can pick them up and savor them.



December 3, 2009, 4:54 PM

Density and facts are good terms. Being of a practical bent I like a description that tells how something actually works, which Darby gets quite well as a wordsmith. Like in the landscape quote: "When you are painting a landscape, assume the painting is real and the landscape is an illusion."

I took the liberty of posting two quotes on my Facebook page (with a link to Artblog) with Darby's response and got a good response in turn from Andrei Molotiu.

Darby:"Asking art to express ideas is like asking a Sumo wrestler to play charades."

Andrei: "I think the problem lies in the verb "asking." Art expresses ideas quite naturally. But if you ask it or try to make it express a specific idea, that's where it (usually) fails."



December 4, 2009, 11:54 AM

Art, as art, does not express ideas. Ideas are essentially verbal, or can be expressed verbally. "Expressing" ideas is different from having ideas when you look at something, which happens naturally and is often a consequence of looking at art.



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