Mississippi artist puts the Southern storytelling tradition to canvas


By by aprill brandon
Dec. 6, 2010 at 6:06 a.m.
Updated Dec. 8, 2010 at 6:08 a.m.

Pieces of art by artist Lea Barton Banks, who will be exhibiting at the Nave Museum from Dec. 10-Jan. 16.

Pieces of art by artist Lea Barton Banks, who will be exhibiting at the Nave Museum from Dec. 10-Jan. 16.

The South has always had a great storytelling tradition. For Mississippi artist Lea Barton Banks, that tradition extends to the visual arts and in particular, her own work.

"The South is so rich in history, and when a Southerner goes to visit other places, they are considered exotic. It's a fascinating place to be from," Banks said. "It's so rich in so many ways, and yet there is still so much poverty. It's fascinating, beautiful and poignant, all at the same time, and being from the South has really affected my work and what I draw from."

Beginning Friday, Victorians will get to see that influence firsthand when Banks' newest exhibit, "All That I Can't Leave Behind," opens at the Nave Museum. Curated by Virginia Kisalus, the show will focus on a decade's worth of the artist's pieces, which are based on Bank's photographs and then created using acrylic and oil paint, printmaking, collage and sometimes three-dimensional objects, to build the surface of the piece.

Although Banks spent most of her childhood moving around the country because of her father being in the Navy, and two years spent in New York attending the Pratt Institute, she always returned to Wolf Lake, located outside Yazoo City in Mississippi, where her grandmother lived, she said. And, just as famed Southern author William Faulkner always advised aspiring scribes to write about what they know, Banks creates images of what she knows from her experiences as a Southerner.

"I really took that Faulkner sentiment to heart. The more I immersed myself in the culture of where I lived, and the more I read works by Southern writers, the more my images became less abstract and more image-based," she said. "The South is known for storytelling, and I consider myself a visual storyteller. I started telling stories with my art."

In fact, Banks actually puts pieces of the South in her work. As she finds pieces of paper and other small objects, such as keys, she includes them in the painting and around the border, she said.

And, just as it takes a writer several months and sometimes years to finish a novel, Banks said it can take her anywhere from eight to 18 months to finish one of her paintings.

"The story of the piece evolves, much like how a novel does over time," she said.

Banks added that she was thrilled at the opportunity to exhibit at the Nave Museum and said that she hopes people walk away from the show feeling they had found the story within each piece.

"My hope is they find the story, even if it is their own story and maybe see some of their own experiences within the pieces. I hope they find my work beautiful and poetic and that their time wasn't wasted," she said.

On a personal note, in addition to the professional excitement, Banks, a newlywed, is feeling about the exhibit, there's also a very personal reason why this particular exhibit holds special significance for her.

"This will be the first exhibit that my new husband, Frank, will get to see. He'll be experiencing 10 years of my life through this, and I'm hoping for him, it will give him that 'wow' moment. And I guess that goes for Victoria too. I hope this show has a 'wow' factor to it," she said. "This is a wonderful thing for my career, and the Nave is a big deal. It's a prestigious museum. So for me, I'm looking forward to this exhibit on a lot of different levels."



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