JD Banke’s Live Wire: Peasant Dreams at Glass Box Gallery
When I went to see JD Banke’s Peasant Dreams, the paintings were in the middle of a photo shoot. Lighting apparatuses and tripod stands loitered around Glass Box Gallery’s small, jigsawed-together spaces, the artwork’s real-life interrupting its day job of just hanging out. The photographers politely tried to move aside in a space with little room to move, but they didn’t need to; I liked it this way. The comingling of the utilitarian things with the art-things created the best possible space for hearing the most vocal part of Banke’s work—a persistent, self-assured pronouncement of being alive. — Erin Langner, Seattle contributor
The commercial aspect of the graphic design world in which the artist began his undergraduate work slathers across the surfaces of the works in Peasant Dreams. Their street scenes, unspecified-dollar-bills and scrawled slogans lay flat and bold atop the wooden canvases, like posters. They shout things, in all-caps: “LIBERTY,” “RIP MY VIBE,” “SERIAL CHILLER.” They bleed off the page, onto the walls, morphing between paintings, objects and installations, meshing with the photo equipment that matched the messy, graffiti-flecked, urban themes of Banke ‘s paintings so well that it was often hard to tell where the art ended and the real-world things began.
Banke’s cartoonish renderings of a street corner in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood are instantly recognizable, the area’s own vibe captured by the dark, jail bar-covered windows and distinct procession of a bank, a pawnshop, a club and a bodega. Despite the darkly humorous “MURDER MART” label scrawled across its façade, the bodega looked particularly familiar. It brought to mind a week I once spent on a jury, determining whether a man who owned a similar place in Pioneer Square was guilty of violating a restraining order. I think of the bizarre stories that came out of that trial every time I walk by that mini-mart now. There was one recounted by a cop, about the way the man in question had barricaded the police out of the store by stacking all of its chairs against the door, like something that would happen in an old slapstick comedy. But that humor is tinged by a slight fear I have that the defendant will someday recognize me on the street and inflict some sort of punishment, making Banke’s “MURDER MART” label seem a bit more real, if only by speaking to irrational worries.
Peasant Dreams matched the tone of those stories and the other things I know of the neighborhood so well, it was hard not to see its essence and ever-present discontents there among the artist’s painted scene involving a police car, a man popping out from a limosine roof and a sign simply labeled, “BOOZE.” This is Pioneer Square, in all of its crisp, crude flesh.
Like lots of neighborhoods in big cities these days, Pioneer Square is slowly becoming tidier and more high-brow. Its old buildings are turning into exposed-brick-lined coffee shops with artist-made teacups and bars designed for people looking to sip craft cocktails after they visit the galleries that have inhabited the neighborhood for years. Glass Box Gallery lives slightly beyond the area’s borders, showing JD Banke’s Peasant Dreams on the periphery—in walking distance but off-center. I don’t know if it was the location, or the photo equipment, or the work’s eschewing of the more refined techniques typical among the Pioneer Square galleries, but it was hard not to take a deep inhale of the fresh, toxic paint smell and notice the distinctly live wire running through this painted world.
Peasant Dreams is on view at Glass Box Gallery in Seattle, WA through April 25. JD Banke lives and works in Seattle. He received his BFA from Cornish College of the Arts, where he was a recipient of the John and Mary Shirley endowed scholarship. His work has recently been shown at Seattle galleries Prole Drift, Vignettes and Cairo.
Erin Langner is an arts writer and a program associate at Seattle Arts & Lectures.