Banks Violette's Death into Life Aesthetics


Banks Violette's digitally animated loop of the Tri-Star Pictures horse, based upon Jack Goldstein's 1975 Metro-Goldwyn Mayer lion loop film.

BANKS VIOLETTE’S career arc seems to know no heights. I’ve followed his work for several years now – from his inclusion in Greater New York half a decade ago to his Whitney Biennial début and followup one person show there. All three shows were sensations. I am intrigued about his grappling with darkness as a means of artistic production, and even of his early on expression that his work in some way represents alienated white male youth. Some of his work’s titles refer to death and future suicide, yet I do not perceive this artist to be a poet like Kurt Colbain whom himself was in such a state of mental despair that he swallowed the barrel of a shotgun returned into eternity. What I am drawn toward by Violette’s narratives are his melding of the Conceptual Art language and philosophical discourses with Robert Smithson’s working methodologies and materials – salt being one example. Violette has traditional scultptor’s skills as well as Conceptual Artist’s internal logic. This for me is why he is what was derisively called during the 1990’s in Los Angeles {an object maker) while at once being a keen intellect. He is not shot down by yet another 1990’s idea that regarded painters as either retrograde or blissfully ignorant to the reality when that painting was dead, than work should be made by being farmed out, that works of art should be emptied of narrative. Of course now this all sounds as absurd as it should have sounded 15 and 20 years ago, but at that time Conceptual Art was winning because there had not yet developed a new international layer of the art market that was not only receptive to traditional narrative picture making – but it specifically sought out narrative painting, as well as updates on New York School art. I like knowing that Violette assists his assistants in producing his work, and that he drags in all the necessary tools and equipment to get his work made – so that what he called “an authenticity” can happen with his work. I studied directly with Jack Goldstein in 1995 while in grad school, so I am well aware of why an artist from a different generation would be so enamored of Jacks work. One of my mentors from that time occasionally will talk about what happened in Los Angeles during the 1990’s when certain graduate programs taught no traditional skills to its students, but buried them alive with Critical Theory. Many of the artists from that period are fully dependent upon having others realize their works at a time when the hand and traditional skills in painting and sculpture – combined with a Conceptual Art critical theory education – is causing a firestorm critically informed hand skill based works to come into the now gigantic international world of contemporary art. I personally have started painting again after working almost exclusively in photography and fabricated sculptures for well over a decade.

“… Shamim M. Momin, an associate curator at the Whitney and one of the Biennial’s organizers, said her interest in Mr. Violette’s work was spurred less by his dark subject matter than by his open embrace of the symbolic, following the lead of more established artists like Robert Gober and Matthew Barney. With some exceptions, the use of overt symbolism in the visual arts was out of fashion for most of the 20th century, thought to be the province of literature or religion. But a new generation of artists increasingly seems to see it, with varying degrees of directness and irony, as a valid way to communicate.” New York Times

“Vanity Fair photographed him (Banks Violette) lighting a Marlboro with a blowtorch.” NY Arts magazine

in 2007 Banks Violette opened his first New York solo show in five years at both Team and Gladstone galleries.  I was in New York and saw these two shows and was especially impressed when I saw saw several art students sitting on the floor while taking notes. The works in the show seemed to have come from a foreign world instead of a warehouse sized Williamsburg, Brooklyn studio.

“Salt was Smithson’s signature material, and the first time Smithson ever used salt was at Cornell.” Banks Violette.

Violette was a studio assistant of Robert Gober.

Banks Violette Interview

March 21st 10, 6:23 | Adam Bryce | Banks Violette, Gladstone Gallery, Team Galler


“Banks Violette interviews are hard to come by, the Williamsburg based artist has made a name for himself through his mind blowing work rather than his words. This is an artist who erected a life-sized burned-out church cast in salt, who made a school chair sculpture out of bronze and fire, and has works on display at the MOMA, Saatchi Gallery, his work certainly speaks for itself. We visited Banks Violette’s newest show yesterday at Gladstone Gallery in New York’s Chelsea, the 4 new sculptures on display were each museum worthy, large scale conceptual pieces playing on the historic archives of the art world and their pending decay.”

…this particular church, since the space isn’t built around a cruciform footprint but is, instead, just a straight shot through and then up and away—it’s the holy equivalent of a railroad apartment.” from Banks Violette’s interview with Alex Gartenfield.

“At 31, with a master’s degree in fine arts from Columbia University and the theory-laced vocabulary of a literature professor, Mr. Violette does not seem particularly dark. But behind him in the studio loomed a huge spectral structure that testified at the very least to his abiding fascination with the chaos of the world. It was a 12-foot-tall replica of a church, or more accurately the charred beams and gables left standing after a church had been burned. Instead of wood, however,the entire structure was made from salt, creating an architectural skeleton that at once evokes high Minimalism, gothic creepiness and a kind of ethereal ice-palace beauty.”

Librado Romero / The New York Times

Banks Violette

“Banks Violette has created a visual language linked to his background and personal history that is derived from pop culture’s aestheticisation of death. This highly personal language is intended to provide an account of the disturbing psychology that underlies attitudes and acts that have defined the frustrations and anger of a marginalised group of white American youth. Beneath the surface of Violette’s pared down black sculptures, occasionally redeemed by the white of salt crystals, is a melancholy that sometimes sinks into sorrow. This sense of sadness with which all Violette’s work is imbued is linked to a tragic dimension of pop culture.”

“Goths and heavy metal have spawned a sub-culture of young people for whom extreme acts of violence are somehow more readily acceptable as part of the process of asserting identity than has been the case in a recent past that includes Violette’s own somewhat troubled youth. Citing examples where musical lyrics become instigating factors to real-life violence, he refers to an over-identification with fiction where fantasy and reality are blurred. Violette is interested in the moral ambiguities that result from this condition rather than seeking a catharsis.”

“He works backwards from a site of tragedy, exploring the emotional and psychic energy that lies beneath the suburban angst of a group disengaged from mainstream life. The burning of wooden churches in Norway by members of the Black metal music scene during the 1990’s is the subject for Untitled (Church) 2005. The charred frame of a ficitionlised church cast in resin and salt is as much a monument to a groups act of transgression as it is to the mythology and notoriety which subsequently followed.”  Frank Cohen Initial Access art collection.

This work reminds me of Duane Hanson's sculpture that graphically renders in hyper realism a downtown motorcycle - but this sculpture is missing the downed motorcyclist that Hansen portrayed. So then this sculpture for me has some relationship to the ghost bikes in New York: bike painted white and attached to street corner posts where the cyclist was killed. This of course is similar to the accident crosses that are in the Southwestern US on the highways, and even on the outer regions of Los Angeles. Like Warhol before him, Hanson decided to use graphic depictions of death after being criticized as to his art having no political or social meaning other than itself being a critique of obese, tasteless Americans.

“The ten graphite drawings and one salt sculpture that compose Banks Violette’s latest exhibition at Team Gallery, “Not Yet Titled,” are haunting creations; they’re attempts to breathe life into subjects whose lives have been lost. The death of the painter Steve Parrino acts as the backdrop to the exhibition: In the gallery, the first thing that greets the audience is a black vinyl square on the floor, which evokes the oil slick on which Parrino’s motorcycle slipped in a fatal crash. The black square is also a dimensional portal — and a nod to Kazimir Malevich’s masterpiece Black Square from 1915 — on which an outward projecting arm of road case benches is placed that links the installation of drawings like satellites orbiting a planet. ” Steve Pulimond, Art in America 2009

This sculpture of a downed motorcycle by Banks Violette is also made primarily of salt. It is a memento for the artist Steve Parrino, who died on New Years Eve in New York on his motorcycle on the first day of 2005.

ZODIAC (F.T.U.) / 74 ironhead SXL is the title of the work

Banks Violette, as yet untitled, 2008



This Bans Violette sculpture of the frame of a church that burned in Norway is made of primarily of salt. It was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2005.

“(The Whitney installation is a reference to a picture of a burned church on an infamous black-metal album cover.)” NYTimes

This Banks Violette sculpture of a burning school student's chair reminds me of the riots in the United States in the mid and late 1960's. Even though this particular work purportedly comes into existence as a representation of angry and alienated white youth, it still represents for me all the historic and unknown incidents in America whereby extreme violence was perpetrated in reaction to feeling stripped of ones humanity.

Banks Violette sculpture

“Meeting me in his studio in mid-August, Banks Violette shook his head: “they talk about a post-studio practice” he mused, “sometimes I wonder if I’m in a ‘post-career’ moment.” In a culture primed to laud, collect, and consume “emerging artists,” Violette may stand as a litmus test of whether all of this attention is a good thing. For if ever a young artist was “having his moment,” Violette is. He has a full room in Greater New York at P.S. 1; a massive installation in Neville Wakefield’s exceptional group show Bridge Freezes Before Road at Gladstone Gallery; and a solo exhibition in the Whitney’s lobby gallery. Since May, the New York Times has graced him with not one, but three substantial write-ups (including a “Styles” section profile), and a fourth is on the way.” Ktie Stone Sonnenborn, New York Times, 2005

Installation by Banks Violette. Photo: Courtesy Gladstone Gallery.
“For this new installation, Violette continues to mine a rich art historical terrain in which the materials and forms associated with Minimal and Conceptual Art become reactivated as theatrical platforms of performative decay. He pairs a large chandelier composed of multiple fluorescent tubes with a black wall that seems to buckle and melt against the reflection of the light. Both aspects of the installation recall the monochromatic tone and the use of replaceable industrial materials common to Minimalist and Conceptual sculptors such as Donald Judd and Dan Flavin; however, Violette’s works seem self-consciously constructed and theatrical. Wires fall in a cascade alongside the chandelier while the apparatus of steel tubes and sandbags supporting the wall remain in plain sight.” from the Barbara Gladstone press release.

Vincent Johnson during his recent art trip to London

Vincent Johnson Biography  as of November 2011
Vincent Johnson lives and works in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited at Soho House, Los Angeles, Palihouse, West Los Angeles, Las Cienegas Projects, LAXART, the P.S. 1. Museum, the SK Stiftung, Cologne, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Adamski Gallery of Contemporary Art, Aachen, Locust Projects, Miami, the Sacramento Center for Contemporary Art, 18th Street Arts, Santa Monica and the Boston University Art Gallery. His photographic works engage both significant and neglected historical and contemporary cultural artifacts and is based on intensive research of his subjects. Upcoming are projects in Europe and Los Angeles. His most recent work, a series of nine grayscale paintings, was shown at the Beacon Arts Center in Los Angeles in the group show entitled The Optimist’s Parking Lot. He will have a new cutout collage work in the upcoming The Bearden Project at the Studio Museum in Harlem, opening in New York on November 10, 2011. He also participated in the inaugural edition of Pulse Fair Los Angeles with Las Cienegas Projects. He is also participating in Locust Projects Miami’s annual benefit exhibition in the late fall of 2011.
Vincent Johnson’s California Toilet: Filthy Light Switch (Private collection, Miami, Florida) (2011)
Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – installation shot – 1
Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – installation shot – 2
Motel Tangiers, (San Fernando Valley) by Vincent Johnson (2003)
Parked wreck, Los Angeles (2005) by Vincent Johnson

Johnson received his MFA from Art Center College of Design in 1997 and his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1986.   He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was nominated for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 nominated for Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, Art Slant and many other publications.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: