LISSA BANKS PAINTINGS
I was the youngest of four girls and I was the one who took up my dad’s offer to go with him to the nursery or help him in his workshop.
My childhood memories smell like bags of manure in the back of the station wagon and sawdust on the floor of the garage. My dad taught me how to deadhead spent flowers and how to use a drill and how to temper steel. He gifted me with a miter box one year and a box full of acrylic paints and brushes another year.
As an engineer he was a frustrated artist but one who could paint with plants and outfit a 27’ sailboat, sails and all. He filled our lives with beautiful things and those things have continued to be important to me as well, especially flowers.
And he gave me that box of paints.
From Yankee stock, my dad saved scraps of wood. There was a pile I could pilfer for whatever project I wanted. In middle school I used them to paint stylized characters of girls with long legs and flowers, always flowers.
When I paint flowers now it’s as if I am gathering them together on the canvas as a gift for someone. I try to summon those childhood memories to imbue all of their essences together: their smell, their velvet petals, their brilliant color (not so much the manure). I like to paint them powerful and in-your-face, filling as much of the canvas as I can so the viewer gets a bee’s eye view. And sometimes I paint them in isolation, sometimes waifs, sometimes powerful in their solitude.
I think about my work as autobiographical in some ways. The flowers, certainly, but also the infrequent landscapes which usually document a passage of time and space like a move across country. And in the past several years children have reappeared in my work. Now part of my own expanded family. Definitely marking the passage of time.
My process is quite deliberate. I start with an inspiration photo that I take with my phone; do some tweaking of the image in Photoshop and then create a detailed to scale canvas-sized newsprint drawing outlining important elements which I then transfer to canvas. I isolate the subject by filling in the background with a dark color then work section by section painting thin layers to develop the various elements of the piece. I use a stay-wet palette so that I can work slowly to build thin color upon thin color. I will do several glazes near the end of the process. My last task is to complete the background, neatening errant brushwork, etc. I like short handled brushes and my rolling stool.
When I’ve finished a painting I write something about it and post it to my website. These missives seem to come out of the blue but really, they seem more to be what was swirling around my oblivious head for the time I was deep into the work. I enjoy writing them as it seems to put a punctuation mark to my painting and they often spark a nice conversation with my audience. It’s always interesting to hear different perspectives.
Unfortunately, the last paintings my dad ever saw of mine were of the long-legged girls with daisies. I like to think he’d be happy with my work now. As a frugal man, I’m certain he’d think the stay-wet palette was a brilliant tool. I do too.