The Walter Darby Bannard Archive

Statement (1997)

Statement for retrospective exhibition of Bannard Paintings, Scarfone Art Gallery, Univertsity of Tampa, Tampa, FL, October 1997.

One of the pleasures of a long life in art is an occasional retrospective exhibition, a "looking back" over what one has done. Putting up a large selection of older work entails reevaluation and of course this is fascinating to an artist. It also causes a lot of anxiety.

A retrospective has the character not only of one's work but also of the institution and curator doing it. The most thorough and best documented I have enjoyed was at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1973, and the most interesting and idiosyncratic was curated by Bob Sindelir, who wrote the forward to this catalog.

When Dorothy Cowden asked if I would be interested in a show at the Lee Scarfone Gallery, I first thought I would show recent work, but my recent work is small and I don't stretch finished paintings until I have to. When I got the floor plan of the gallery and saw how huge it is I realized a show of new work would mean a big job stretching a large number of paintings. Some of which I might not want to exhibit because I have not had enough time to decide if they are any good. A modest show of new work at a commercial gallery is part of the process of sizing up that new work but a large institutional exhibit should show the best.

So I was obliged to look at everything I had in my studio, and simply go with the perceived best pictures of the whole lot, as they came up, with no other consideration or criteria. At first I balked, out of laziness as much as anything. I've been painting a long time, and of the 1500 or so stretched canvases I've made over the years I retain about 300, many quite large, well wrapped and snugly packed into storage bays in my studio. But I knew there was no way I would ever take on such a mentally and physically demanding but valuable review in the middle of a busy life unless I had to. Another reason for my reluctance was that I knew that a rigorous review of years of work would shake up a lot of comfortable assumptions I carry around about my painting. I'm as resistant to change as anyone. I think most veteran artists like to think that everything they've done is good. This "survival of the fittest" approach was naturally uncomfortable.

My colleague, George Bethea, who has an excellent eye, offered to help. We spent a week hauling and stacking paintings and making choices. When we got down to the final 30 there were three surprises: all the paintings fell into a decade between 1982 and 1993, almost all were much larger than the average and almost all were more "expressionist" than "color field", more graphic and drawn and less expansively coloristic. My paintings have moved between these poles over the years and it was unnerving to see the final judgment turn out so one-sided. But this is the nature of dispassionate particular selection, in art or in life. You can't avoid it in the long run. If you don't do it someone or something will do it for you. And it is already influencing my new work in ways that surprise me.

I regretted that so few of the large paintings we chose reflected my interest in color (Spring Hill (1992) illustrated here, is an exception) because the way color works in art intrigues me. Talent for color seems inborn and its operation in art mysterious. I'm pleased with myself when I think I've brought off some good color and dejected when I haven't, whereas when I do well or badly with drawing or setup I shrug it off. So when I learned that there was yet another large room in the gallery, on the second floor, we went back to the studio and decided that a group of small acrylics from the late 70's and some of the oilstick on paper "landscapes" I have been doing for the last few years would do nicely. (Pictured in color here is the acrylic Resting in Cornwall [1978] and the oilstick China Island [1996]).

If you have read this far you have noticed I have said little about the paintings themselves. Part of the reason for this is I still harbor the old fashioned idea that art speaks for itself, and part of the reason is that writing about art tends to be technical, obscure or self-serving and I think most people are bored with it for good reason. Writing about art is only useful when it leads into the experience of art.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.