Anthony Banks (b. 1988, Cheltenham) graduated with an MA in painting from the Royal College of Art in summer 2016. In his exhibition Geologies, curated by Kristian Day, Banks presents approximately a dozen new and recent paintings exploring notions of landscape, particularly in relation to the British countryside and coastline, and to the history of its depiction by painters during the twentieth century and into the new millennium. With a range of techniques that draw upon naïve, impressionist, post-impressionist, expressionist, abstract and other modernist and postmodernist approaches to paint, like an archaeologist or geologist, Banks excavates through the many layers of painting’s recent history, leaving traces of the different strata within his own canvases.
Depicting subjects such as trains crossing valleys in front of mountain ranges, boats with billowing sails silhouetted against golden sunsets, and wind and water mills in full swing against clear blue skies, Banks seems to offer us a glimpse of an idyllic and timeless land; but his is also a world of defunct power stations, decaying coal mining machinery, and new-build hotels, suggesting his is as much a pragmatic view of the post-industrial landscape as it is a longing for a rural British utopia or a celebration of the beauty and diversity of the great British outdoors.
Banks’s quest is also one full of formal challenges, firstly in terms of geometry, lines, colours, shapes and forms but also in terms of the framing and cropping of imagery – it is as if layering, juxtaposition, superimposition and fragmentation are essential to his working processes and conception of an image, forcing the viewer to consider what is on top, at the surface of a painting, what has been pushed back and what might lie between different layers. He often makes his own frames by hand, extending his fascination with edges, boundaries and crops beyond the canvas itself. With his dynamic approach to formal matters and armed with an innovative range of colour palettes, Banks is clearly keen to explore some of the many variables that interest him from styles and techniques past and present in order to define and refine his own painterly language.
At what point do abstract marks and patterns take on figurative or three-dimensional spatial properties? At what moment does representation slip into pure abstraction? How can these seemingly opposed modes of painting be brought together within a single painterly language and with a consistent, unified surface? These are the kinds of questions that have inevitably captured the imagination of painters from Graham Sutherland and Winifred Nicholson to Howard Hodgkin and Frank Auerbach, from Tim Stoner and Hurvin Anderson to Kaye Donachie and Gillian Carnegie, and continue to inspire some of the latest generation of young British painters of which Banks is an exciting part.
Matt Price, editor and writer