Art Conversations In the Studio

Anthony Banks Dreams of England

By Drake's

Dec 8, 2023

Anthony Banks Dreams of England

Anthony Banks sees his work as a Rorschach test. People gaze in and see what they want to see. A bridge in Wales conjuring the landscape around a family home; a windmill in Norfolk from a memorable holiday. “It’s funny to stand with someone while they look at a painting,” says the artist. “They fill in the gaps and reach their own conclusions. A lot of the things I paint are distorted—a bit watery, like reflections. I want to invite people in, rather than for any of it to seem standoffish or definite.”

When we visit Banks at his studio in Bow, East London, he’s finalising the paintings for his show, An Unfinished Island, which is on display at Cedric Bardawil in Soho until 14th December. In contrast to the soft, bucolic scenes on the canvas, his immediate surroundings are grey and industrial. A scrap metal yard, a boarded up pub called the Beehive and, facing directly out from the studio’s high windows, a derelict warehouse primed for a developer with deep pockets and dreams of turning it all into ‘Urban Living in Vibrant East London.’

“I don’t tend to work based on the immediacy of my surroundings,” he says. “I might be on a really beautiful residency in the Tuscan countryside, but I’ll be thinking of somewhere else. It’s a longing for where I was previously that seems to find its way into the work.” 

Growing up in Gloucestershire, Banks was often surrounded by water. Landlocked, but prone to flooding. In an accompanying essay for the show, the writer Matthew Holman describes the artist’s output as “remarkable in its singular treatment of the British countryside—its mud, its spring showers.” Banks has a tendency to sit with the paintings for a long, long time, sometimes more than a decade. “It’s important not to feel too precious about one thing,” he says. “Let it be kind of shit for a while… that’s fine. There’s a journey you go on that takes as long as it needs to take.” 

Doused in thick layers of paint applied over time, this patience gives the final work a sense of the outdoors, caked in dirt and rain and soft autumn sunlight. Something that has been exposed, in some way, to the weird caprices of British weather. “Whether it really exists, I have this romantic notion of England,” says Banks. “It’s a theme that I keep returning to, no matter where I am in the world.” 

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