So Different Yet So Much Alike: Lee and Banks at the Courthouse Gallery
In the year 30,000 B.C or thereabouts, Cro-Magnon(early modern man) began observing in natural form qualities that reflected themselves and their relationships with the world around them. At first they just collected the objects but soon began manipulating the forms to express and suggest a specific event, individual, or experience. These symbols reflecting gods, deceased relatives, rituals, food sources, and fertility became manifestations that defined their lives. So began Art. The artist and the shamans of these pre-historic communities were usually one and the same and the making of art became a spiritual ritual.
The acrylic paintings by Deanna Lee and the assemblages by Diane Banks share a fascination with nature that reflects a kindred spirit with their pre-historic predecessors. Neither artist pre-conceives their work. They allow the work to evolve, employing their intuitive and instinctive spirit to guide them through the creative process. Both artists are inspired by the natural world and their relationship with it and they are both superb craftsman.
Initially Diane’s work seems whimsical, delicate and fun. Mysterious, complex and sophisticated is just as appropriate. Working with mixed media (paper, string, wood, leather, wire, glue, thread, shells and found objects) she sometimes refers to her art as “child-like” and her studio as my “play space”. I couldn’t help but imagine reassembling grandma’s discarded household stuff and sewing box.
Her assemblages begin with an infrastructure of wire and wood that are covered sometimes entirely, sometimes partially with paper, fabric or leather, suggesting “skin” or natural exteriors. These forms reflect birth, life, growth, death, deterioration, decomposition, and re-birth, leaving behind the “bare bones” and withered forms. The passing of time is evident throughout her work and one cannot help but think of things that once were. John Dewey wrote in “Art as Experience”, that it is not just the experience the viewer receives from art as much as the experience the viewer brings to art. I couldn’t help but reflect on my many walks on sea and lake shores, fascinated with all (organic and inorganic) the “neat stuff” that washes up. “Unexpected Encounter” a mixed media wall hanging suggesting entangled nets, floats, drift wood, discarded man-made objects (garbage) and marine life made me think of my time on Sandy Hook, N.J.(gateway to the N.Y. harbor). Diane’s latest work might strike one as visceral; it is an idea born from one of her own assignments for her 3-D design class at James Madison University (good teachers make good artist). Stuffed fabric suggests external and internal human form. Proportionately these forms might make one uncomfortable. The stitching is intense and one cannot help but feel something has gone terribly wrong. All of the work is so well constructed and admiration is appropriate, but I couldn’t help but smile at all of it as well.
Deanna Lee’s approach to creating is similar to Diane Banks however the results are quite different. She describes her abstract acrylic paintings as controlled doodling. That description doesn’t do her work justice. These are profound interpretations of an internal exploration of her relationship with nature. Organic shapes suggesting landscapes painted with primary and secondary color, superimposed with black and white linear forms, flow, float, and blow across the surface. I couldn’t help but feel and hear the movement. “Waves, wind, hair, muscles, topographical maps, and geographical strata, are all metaphors for emotional states, social and environmental relationships”. Her Asian heritage, music and science background have all influenced how she distills these experiences. Like many abstract painters, “automatism” comes to mind. “ Terra Nova”, reminds me of looking down on a pond, collection of lakes, or a savannah. The artist’s inspiration was a topographical map, but I like to think of it as something else (we are allowed to do that). The blue and green shapes suggest to me something wet and organic, while the orange line that connects, intersects, and overlaps the shapes reminds me of roots and shoots, a spring lily pond about to bloom.
This is a great show and gallery director Laura Von Rosk has done a wonderful job in bringing together not just these two artist but many others who regularly exhibit at the Court House Gallery. The Adirondacks region has historically been an inspiration and showcase for contemporary artist of their time and the Lake George Arts Project should be commended and supported.
Richard Stout is an artist living in Hague.