This Ithaca-based artist is one of the names of the moment. His works have travelled the world through institutions such as the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the MoMA, and the Royal Academy in London. His works deal with narratives in general: national identity, current US politics, or Romanticism as an artistic movement through which to express the disenchantments of society. We spoke about him some time ago, but now we have the opportunity to talk with him about his work, his artistic journey, and his collaboration with Celine Homme.
Welcome to METAL! Could you introduce yourself to our readers, please?
I’m Banks Violette. I’m an artist currently living and working in Upstate New York, with my wife and two stepdaughters.
Before we dive in towards the Celine Homme experience, I must ask this: your colour palette goes for metal, dark and solid colours. What makes you lean towards that?
That's what I’ve always been drawn to.
As far as I can see, your work could also be seen as those of a rebellious spirit trying to escape established rules, such as creating – in my opinion – juxtapositions of what usually are wall embellishments on a different medium. Could you expand on this?
I’m not sure I’d agree with that. I just don’t believe there’s anything like established values to either break or (conversely) be obligated towards. I think what you’re describing as wall embellishments is just a general preoccupation with an idea of sculpture itself: weight, mass, physicality, gravity, and such. I’ve made paintings and still make drawings, but –even with those– I’m still preoccupied with their status as an object.
Your work also often refers to darker aspects of North American culture, in opposition to the image that global media often portrays. Does it come from the idea of wanting to criticise or debate the United States’ culture?
Absolutely. I’m interested in narrative generally; the way belief can exceed the confines of narrative specifically. And the narrative of national identity is just an endless instance of that, especially considering contemporary American domestic politics. It’s all pretty hideous.
Contemporary sculpture tends to focus more on solid and still compositions, yet yours evoke movement and continuity. A conversation between past and present. Could you talk a little bit more about this?
I’m interested in events or moments that charge objects with an almost temporal dimension, like a stage after a performance, is over. Sort of a vague way of explaining it, but that’s something I’ve always been interested in.
I apologise since I’m going to ask you about a topic that may be a little bit dense. Researching for the interview, I read that a lot of the symbolism in your work is related to those who fell victims to suicide. Do you think mental health is a recurring theme in your art?
Well, I wouldn’t say that. Any references I’ve made to suicide in the past have been how it relates to certain tropes or conventions specific to Romanticism, both art historical, and literary. I’m interested in moments where fictions exceed its bounds, and that’s what motivated that work, not anything relative to mental health.
Then, for example, could you tell me a bit more about the 2004 Whitney Biennial installation of Kurt Cobain?
Again, that was more to do with the idea of a story exceeding itself or becoming subsumed within a narrative. Kurt Cobain was obviously a real living person, but he also disappeared into the narrative called Kurt Cobain. First as a rock star, then as a tragedy. I’m describing it poorly but, yet again, it's locating something that exists in an uneasy slippage between performer and performance.
Let’s get down to the Celine Homme collaboration. When and how did you meet Hedi Slimane and when did the collaboration come about?
I can’t remember specifically when or how I met Hedi but – I think–it was around the 2004 Whitney Biennial. As regards the Celine project, Hedi had reached out about using some older images for his recent collection. I offered to make a few additional images in addition to the older work he was looking at, so he selected from both older and newer work.
I think the collaboration with Celine has a lot to do with both of your mindsets since your illustrations are previous works that you had already exhibited. Why the horses and the American flag? Was there any specific message in mind?
You’d really have to ask Hedi since the image selection was entirely down to him. The newer images I made were in keeping with the direction it seemed he was already leaning towards, but I can’t speak to his reasons for gravitating towards one image over another.
This collection seems to be inspired by the same rebellious spirit as yours. What does it make you think about? Is being a rebel now the same it was years ago?
It’s funny but I don’t think of what motivates my attraction to certain images, music, or subculture as rebellious. I’m attracted to the communities that lonely, alienated people manufacture for themselves to avoid the sharp edges of the outside world, which just seems fundamentally human. Not rebellious. And I think that’s as relevant now as when I was younger.
Has fashion and art been related in your life? And if so, how?
That depends on where you personally draw the line around fashion. If you’re considering it in a broad sense, from t-shirt design to the patches and buttons on a backpack, to which subculture gravitates towards what footwear, then absolutely. Art and fashion have always had some relationship with one another for me.
Could you tell us if there are other projects in mind?
I’m working on a few projects, ideally a new show in New York City, but I’m still trying to iron out the details so I can’t provide anything definitive with dates and all of that at the moment. Still, I’m excited about it. That's a vague reply but it's the best I can provide at the moment.