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Review | Moving Sideways In Time with Angela Banks

By Angela de Wet

Currently on exhibition at the Knysna Fine Art Gallery, Angela Banks’ Sideways in Time is a collection of paintings full of whimsical figures and their attendant creatures in dreamlike settings. Creative Feel contributor Angela de Wet reflects.   

‘There is something deliberately haunting about these,’ I murmur to myself, as my gaze circles a labyrinth of large curious images in a part of the Knysna Fine Art Gallery that has been designated for this type of contemplation as of 11:00 this morning. It is the opening of Angela Banks’ Sideways In Time exhibition and the invitation’s description, ‘a suite of contemporary oil paintings,’ has left me ill-prepared for the rabbit-hole that I have unwittingly been yanked into. An ominous wonderland of poised female figures and their companion beasts have ensnared me. Some of them are staring straight at me. None of them look even remotely amused.

The Winter Whirl (detail)
Angela Banks

Angela Banks KZNSA Gallery

To spite the sharp expressions that mark many of the subjects faces, most are in possession of a whimsical, storybook-like quality. The young ladies have porcelain skin and twirling plaits, and they wear neat dresses with socks pulled up like girl-scouts. Their furry comrades appear subdued, all too presentable to be intimidating in the least. The young zebra wears a bell, and the bear, circus frills. These would-be wild animals appear quite docile. It might even be safe to assume that they are tamed and trained.

Angela Banks KZNSA Gallery

The Winter Whirl
Angela Banks

Innocent Stage
Angela Banks

Angela Banks KZNSA Gallery

Now it is the fine detail of the sizable works that is holding me captive. The levitating golden balls of Lift look real to the touch. The silken green parachute enthralls me! Banks’ invisible brush strokes have her viewers awed. The fur of the fox begs stroking, and the grace of the frock is in the fabric folds. 

As in Lift, the settings are mostly empty rooms with a single canvas of a gloomy landscape forming a backdrop for the figures, who often appear with a carnivalesque prop. The formality of the compositions suggests a staged, likely photograph-ready scene. There are the occasional exceptions that break the geometric structural repetition that serves to box most subjects in, and I notice that the deviations tend to have settings of water. My gaze sinks into an enchanting, yet illogical under-water work entitled Creating Countenance.      

Angela Banks KZNSA Gallery

Lift
Angela Banks

Creating Countenance
Angela Banks

Angela Banks Knysna Gallery

These are beautiful women that Banks has cast as subjects. They are quite noticeably all white, and I ponder this exclusivity, although it soon becomes clear that there is a stereotypical element at play that lends itself to the artist’s choice here. They have a Victorian elegance about them. There is usually one figure per canvas, each with her animal counterpart. The women stand upright, often in what is referred to in theatre as ‘full front position’, thereby directly engaging their audience. The animals are entertaining too, although the timidity of the bear in Innocent Stage does now have me curious just as to how a creature is thus subdued. The bear is perched motionless on a wagon-cart beneath a parrot, and his lifelessness is accentuated by the swirling motion of the accompanying actress’s dress. The flawless technique that the artist has employed to depict movement in the twirling fabric leaves no trace of itself, and once again I am provided with an absorbing distraction. Banks’ Honours in Fine Art is evident.     

Although each life-like subject is unique in face and feature, they share a subtle drooping at the corners of the mouth, a lingering seriousness, it seems. A bitterness, in some. In others, a muted rage. They convey quiet contemplations of wounds too deep for salving. They become reflections. Not the type of states or feelings one expects to be confronted with in public on a Saturday morning. And I can tell that some of the viewers are trying hard not to notice the not-so-subtle glints of despair and distaste darting out from these otherwise visually appetising scenes. I don’t blame them. These are broken feelings looking back at us. The overall sombreness of mood serves to mock the pastel hues and polished boots of these solitary inner-child visual memoirs. The works become silent odes to devastated dreams. The nurses who are duly posing for us alongside a monkey in The Daisy Girls concur. ‘Crumbling heart served with cream-cake, anyone?‘ Banks’ host of attractive subjects might chime. But their mouths have been painted shut. A quiet endurance occupies their countenance. Yet something about their eyes puts you to shame for having admired the folds in their dresses.

Angela Banks KZNSA Gallery

The Daisy Girls
Angela Banks

Inviting Danger in as a Friend
Angela Banks

Angela Banks KZNSA Gallery

I eventually decide that the most unsettling glare of all is the one that strikes out from the introductory artwork that leads you into the exhibition space. Inviting Danger in as a Friend the piece is called. Here the subject is dressed in a stiff blue apron, and she isn’t wispy or girlish like the ones around the corner. She looks more real, more human and less vacant. Two hyenas keep her company. They are in a mostly barren room with a peeling blue wall substantiating the bleak background. This scene isn’t photo-friendly like the others. A dark sunken fireplace behind the figures forms the composition’s focal point; the square black structure interrupting the muted blues and earth tones that predominate. Coals sprinkle the cold brick floor beneath and serve to guide the eye. My gaze climbs up past the empty fireplace and pauses on a shelf, where a gleaming butcher’s knife rests.

Angela Banks, Inviting Danger in as a Friend (detail)

My view ascends further still, to an open window through which a burning field can be seen. That same raging fire is depicted in a circular image that hangs above the fireplace, and clouds of black smoke seep into the room from behind the round picture-frame. While the warm palette of the flames serves to break the chill coming from the dilapidated room, it also solidifies the danger; just as the smoke that sweeps across the canvas can only serve to foreshadow doom. The woman holds an antiquated camera. The lens and her gaze point sharply at the viewer.

‘Why would she be taking a photo when her world is burning?’ I wonder. But, alas, there is no response, save the clicking sound of a snapping smart phone.

Angela Banks is just a few metres away and I glance over at her, wishing to ask her a hundred questions. It occurs to me that Banks appears a more mature version of the girl in Innocent Stage; the Johannesburg-based artist and her subject bare a resemblance that extends beyond their blue eyes and blonde hair, I’m quite sure of it. I back away from the exhibition, both perplexed and impressed. As the gallery gate swings shut behind me, I am only able to conclude that perhaps it all makes sense somewhere sideways in time.  

Innocent Stage (detail)
Angela Banks

Angela Banks KZNSA Gallery

Sideways in Time is on exhibition at the Knysna Fine Art Gallery from 4 March – 19 April 2022. Find out more about the exhibition here.

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