The artist’s ceramic mosaic vessels grew out of 25 years of commitment to creating urban gardens with the help of surrounding communities. She has worked on projects in New York; Boston; Charlotte, North Carolina; San Antonio, Texas; Jenkintown, Pennsylvania and in Italy, among other venues, addressing the relationship of people to nature as reflected in the contemporary urban landscape. Her garden projects range from restorative healing herb gardens, to gardens based on the shape of the human body, to planting 600 giant sunflowers, which grew from the ruins of a Southern flour mill.
Her ceramic mosaics follow her love of nature and its transformations as the seasons change. She loves flowers, birds, bees, all symbols of the garden and the creatures that help pollinate and cross-pollinate the flowers. Thus, the birds, bees and flowers are staccato notes on virtually all of her vessels. In this exhibition her primary focus is on bees and flowers, which she transforms into mandalas of nature, inspired by the garden at its most refulgent in mid to late summer. Bankemper is responding to the abundance of blooms, attempting to focus on one flower with a bee at its center, a symbol of serenity.
Working in the way a collagist or assemblagist might, Bankemper creates vessels, beginning with a simple glass vase at the core or a hand-built vessel form of clay. She surrounds the vase with the shape of an urn, be it tall and graceful with elegant handles, or round and flat with a “canvas-like” field to cover. The ceramic urn that surrounds the vessel is its first “skin,” which the artist builds and often breaks. She cements sections of the urn together leaving the cemented passages open and raw, yielding an artifact-like surface to the vessel. She then starts to dress and cloak the vessel with her vocabulary of images, molds, etc. Casting from a collection of 1500 molds, the artist creates myriad shapes and sizes, animals and figurines, combining these with historical ceramics, contemporary china, and hand-built objects. Everywhere the eye looks, there is something rich, textured and layered for the eye to behold. These are not simple pieces; they are complex tapestries of life, always keyed to a color or narrative theme.
For the first time Bankemper accompanies her Bee Mandalas and mosaic vessels with “paintings” on canvas. These are raw canvas works with ceramic forms, sometimes organic, sometimes flowers, some times buttons sewn to the surface mimicking the natural process of a seed imbibing water, called “imbibition.” As the seed imbibes water it swells, the seed shell breaks open and a seedling begins to grow.
The juxtaposition of these unconventional “paintings” with Bankemper’s mandala-like vessels presents the viewer with a visual dialogue on painting and sculpture, as the artist provides a “lesson” on nature, growth, and flowering.
About the Artist: Joan Bankemper was born in Covington, Kentucky in 1959. She received a B.F.A. from Kansas City Art Institute, Missouri and an M.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Mount Royal Graduate School, Baltimore. She also attended Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights and the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The George Sugarman Foundation, California, the North Carolina Arts Council and the Council on the Environment, New York. The artist resides in Warwick, New York and New York City.
Text from Nancy Hoffman Gallery.
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