at Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, California
Recommendation by Cherie Louise Turner
John Bankston, 'Holding On,' 2009, oil on linen, 54 x 48'.
San Francisco–based John Bankston continues to explore delightfully dissonant figurative narratives in his current work. In addition to his well-loved coloring book–style paintings, sculpture is presented for the first time. The twenty-four colorful pieces draw us in with apparent simplicity; we’re readily held by the playful seriousness and strangeness we encounter, as Bankston subtly explores race, sexuality and homosexuality, role play, and other subjects his imagination and experience hone in on. He once again presents plenty of odd imagery to spark storytelling: notably, and new, objects and masks from his personal African art collection, as well as figures wearing a horse costume. The figures are placed in outdoor settings — trees, water features, and lawn are common — save in the large (54 x 48") "Holding On." Its three men stand against an undefined, loosely rendered blue background.
The work, to an increasing degree, is confident and intense, with moments of humor. Color is strong. Compositions are balanced and focused. But what most grabs you are the figures, which are always black men: they look right through or past the viewer. They’re fully consumed by the task at hand. The smallish-size sculptures, which are painted in a fashion similar to the paintings — complete with black outlines giving them two-dimensionality — are particularly strong on this account, making them at once intriguing and disarming. This is powerful body of work presented with youthful sincerity.