Change is a peculiar thing. Humming around us with every passing minute, but too slippery to pin down to a single moment. Yet Anthony Banks has, it seems, done just that.
His latest exhibition is titled ‘The Four Vowels of Wind’, inspired directly by the Laurie Lee poem from which it borrows its name. Consisting of a rich mix of oil and wax on canvas, Anthony’s paintings capture the changing face of the English landscape just as much as they echo the transcience of a boy becoming a man.
Growing up in the Costwolds before moving to London, Anthony has an uncanny ability to translate into art the way we carry the past, present and future within us - and within the places we have seen along the way. Showing that our sense of self, and our sense of style, can blend the sharp industry of modern life with the relaxed romanticism of an idyllic past.
Visiting his Bow studio earlier this Summer, we found a shared this obsession with modern heritage. Whether its pairing contemporary tailoring with an open collar shirt, or examining the legacy of industrialism in his hometown.
He’s similarly of the opinion that waste is unnecessary, choosing discarded canvases as a student that could be reused or altered, bearing visible sentimental traces of their earlier form.
In the same vein, his paintings can take years to complete - Often returning to canvases he started many years ago. In a sense, he is having a direct conversation with his past self. With SIRPLUS, Anthony feels his clothing shares the slow deliberation evident in his creative process. Taking the time to find a style that works to overcome the superficial or mass produced in favour of sustainable progress.
We discussed how the slow nostalgia of his rural roots converge with his now urban existence, and how he embodies a style that is functional yet fluid:
SP: How did your relationship to art begin?
Anthony: From a young age I would paint and draw as a way of responding to what was around me. If there was a piece of paper in front of me I would have to mess it up, I always enjoyed being messy and doing things with my hands. In a similar way to cooking or playing sport (pastimes of mine) you learn and gain confidence through doing and making mistakes.
SP: What draws you specifically to painting as a medium?
Anthony: I think for me there is a slowness to oil painting that I particularly connect with, it can be both instant and slow and there is a reductive obtuseness to working with a medium like that today. There are so many unpredictable moments that happen between conception and finishing a work, it's like a game where the solution is always slightly out of reach.
Through this process each work has its completely individual logic and I could never recreate it, or if I did try it would be a completely different painting. I enjoy my work being the opposite of mass-produced.
Anthony wears SIRPLUS's navy cotton t-shirt from his SIRPLUS selection.
SP: What's the inspiration behind 'The Four Vowels of the Wind'? Does does this one act as a continuation to your previous exhibitions? What's different about its narrative in relation to the previous ones?
Anthony: In a way I see my work as one ongoing body or project, the exhibitions that happen along the way are moments where I can take stock and assess what I have been doing in the studio. It's always interesting to see how shifts and movements that occur are made stark when seeing the paintings curated and in a gallery space. I’m often blind to themes or mannerisms in the moment of making and the significance of meaning of works is only revealed posthumously.
This does feel like a particularly important and personal show for me, however. Many of the works have been in existence for over 10 years and have a specifically nostalgic connection to the British countryside which means so much to me.
The title for the show is taken from a Laurie Lee poem where the author is stuck between a past and future self, both sentimental and restless, a transitory state that I find through my work.
SP: These ideas of sentimentality and nostalgia, do you think they are a common theme in your work?
Anthony: I do revisit themes, genres or tropes - yes. For me, it’s always about making a painting which isn’t contrived. Reading an initial surface, these often fall into certain archetypes of landscapes and genre painting.
This doesn’t restrict me though, quite the opposite. It allows me to take risks and remove the necessity to be faithful to a subject. Themes such as transport (boats, trains, etc) are often manifestations of an in-between state, between departure and arrival, a feeling of both loss and optimism.
The story of the land is our story and we forget that especially when living in a city. I am forever interested in the conversation between physical and human geography. The geology of the land and how that has created communities but also how people have shaped the land.
There is barely a landscape in Britain that is natural or doesn’t bear the scars of our instinct to control our surroundings. I find traces of old and defunct industries particularly interesting, the early moments of mass production and now how these old mills or factories have lost purpose and become purely aesthetic, left to become part of the landscape like follys. Quietly sitting as forewarnings to our future selves and the technologies we hold dear to our current existence.
SP: What does it mean to be an artist today, and how do current trends influence your practice?
Anthony: With artists being more in control of their agency these days there is no need for one style or medium in art to take president or to be fashionable above all others. I feel like this is a really healthy cultural shift, everything has a right to exist and can be judged on its own merit.
Having said this, I would caveat that it has never been the job of artists to purely reflect and reinforce the current mood or mirror society. Much of contemporary culture teaches us to be faster, more reactive or louder in order to gain attention. However for me, there is still space to be slow or introspective, there is a generosity in offering people time and space.