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Artistic anatomy

Molding discomfort in plastic
By IAN PAIGE  |  May 14, 2008

SEATING SCATOLOGY Greta Banks's sculpted chairs.
Greta Bank’s latest works, on display at South Portland's Front Room Gallery, are bulbous sculptures derived from epoxy-resin and carved polyurethane foam. Some are from cast silicon molds while others are built out and carved back. All the pieces are irreverent but with an ominous tone that implies that there are lessons here to be learned. We asked her to teach us.

Let's start with "The Assholes."
There are three mahogany chairs chainlinked together. They have anus seats with hemorrhoids all over them. Everything was done with an automobile sparkle-finish. Color shifting paints and pearls. A lot of flake. The big chair started out as a wingback I picked up on Big Trash Day that I deconstructed and built back up with a big anus and a design inspired by the classic polka-dot fly agaric mushrooms.

This is a little different from your patterned Rococo investigations in the past . ..
I’m pretty scatological. I’ve got about 20 modes of art running through my head at all times. I wanted to take a break from the illustrative investigation of what I was defining as the hardest parts about living in our current world. It was very taxing for me. But there’s another part of me that works with the same ideas but from a simpler place. The primal, sexual forms have in them the same kind of existential play.

Everyone has an anus but everyone goes out of their way to never admit that they have one. We spend so much time making shiny beautiful things, presenting our grand statement of existence — that was the rococo pattern aesthetic I used before — but it’s also the sparkle thing. The domestic sheen of outer surfaces versus the fragility of buttholes. It’s simple. It’s supposed to be funny and self-deprecating. I want people to look at this and know it’s silly, but sincere and primal.

How did the work develop?
The project started out with these simple, goofy ideas and then it was about investing so much time and effort to develop specific complicated surfaces. All of this technical craft was new to me. It was humbling. Fourteen hours a day for four months, I didn’t sleep or eat! I had all these ambitious ideas and then realized that I was running out of time before the show. I got this company in Biddeford that does thermo-forming plastic that I used in the small multiples. It’s really exciting to work with those guys. I’m jealous of those art stars that get to outsource their ideas all the time, I’d get so much more done!

The large pink drips were something I wanted to do about ten years ago when I got out of grad school. The idea is a giant nail-polish drip. It’s a very simple idea but very labor intensive and toxic to make. I got pregnant so it’s taken me this long to get back to it. From there I wanted to make tiny multiples, the little drips. I was interested in making a product, an affordable art object.

So you wanted something more portable, more consumable?
I spend a lot of time obsessing over what an art object is. The whole thing is a foreign frustration for a huge number of people. For years I’ve been trying to get away from that idea of the picture plane wall piece that authenticates, “this is an art piece, everyone’s going to be comfortable and this is how we’ll talk about it.”

If you look at our consumerist culture, the idea of the shop window is comfortable to us. That’s what my "Clearance" project was about in the window of SPACE Gallery. I wanted people to have an intentional and private emotional experience with what could just as easily been a product instead of something to be seen in a white cube. If you look at the local news tonight, you’ll hear so much about the economy as though it’s the health or the spirit of our people. It’s something that everyone is happily complacent to say is an identifying part of our society.

The idea of making the little multiples was this charming idea of making something affordable, but it ended up being very time-consuming and expensive! But the initial idea, that’s where my heart was — to not worry about the pretense of investing in art.

"NEW WORKS" sculptures by Greta Bank | through May 31 | at Front Room Gallery, 378 Cottage Rd, South Portland | 207.767.9070

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