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Review: Shape-shifter emerges in John Bankston works at Walter Maciel

October 17, 2013|By Sharon Mizota
  • John Bankston, "Fairy Machine," 2013
John Bankston, "Fairy Machine," 2013 (Walter Maciel Gallery )

With his characteristic use of thick black lines and rich colors, John Bankston continues his allegorical exploration of relationships between men of color and the creative process.

His latest paintings at Walter Maciel Gallery center on a shape-shifting device called the “Abstracticator,” an amalgam of abstract shapes and animal and machine parts somewhat reminiscent of Philip Guston’s late works. An array of brown-skinned men, most wearing hats with pointed, bird-like bills, interact with this creature, or stand by warily observing.

Surrounded by gardens and flowers, the men appear to be building or tinkering, holding strips of wood or strange, flat geometric implements. Flowers and sprouts suggest fecundity, and the works read on one level as metaphors for the creative process: part man, part machine, part nature. For what is painting if not a device that makes things abstract?

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Yet the works are also about men and their relationships to each other. Bankston, who is gay and African American, depicts only brown men who seem to inhabit a universe all their own.

In “Fairy Machine,” the Abstracticator has produced a tiny, overalls-clad fairy, and the men with the beak-billed hats seem unsure as to what to do, ominously clutching various stick-like implements. In a fable, this would be the inevitable, tragic moment. In Bankston’s work, which is much less transparent, it could go any number of ways.

Walter Maciel Gallery, 2642 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 839-1840, through Oct. 26. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.waltermacielgallery.com

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