Northern California certainly has its share of beautiful landscape, from its mountain ranges to the rugged yet captivating coastline there's plenty to be inspired by. Painter and printmaker Willow Banks draws inspiration from mother nature around her, channelling its beauty through her work.
In our conversation with this California native, we touch on the landscape, her inspiration growing up and the internal struggle one faces as an artist.
What is it about the natural beauty of Northern California that makes it a unique place to live? Not just as an artist?
There are still open expanses of land that you can escape into I grew up here, and I have a natural affinity for these layers of hills folding into themselves, the distant tree lines and glimpses of the ocean. The coast is very rugged and raw, and the surf and beaches are often dangerous—definitely not a Coney Island experience. On cold, windswept days when the fog is in, it’s a particularly soulful place to be.
Who was your favourite artist growing up and why?
I loved, and will always love, Nicolas de Staël—his palate, the way he applied paint. Many years ago, I was visiting a friend in Paris and was fortunate to see a De Staël exhibit at The Centres Georges Pompidou; it was an incredible experience. What I truly love about De Staël’s work is how I feel his landscapes—the sea, sky and coastline—before I see them, they enter first through my heart, not my head. Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler were also two of my early favourites.
When you come across a natural feature, what elements inspire you to paint it?
I like the intersection of things, the way the hills and tree lines converge, creating distinct, almost geometrical shapes. We get a lot of fog here, and that creates another layered element, with bits of trees and escarpment seen through the whitewash…I’m inspired to capture the feel of a place, the light, rather than an exact image.
What is your favourite part about being an artist?
I like when I’m working, and everything is flowing and time just falls away and new things emerge that I think might be good. This, unfortunately, doesn’t happen a lot. Usually, I have to fight my way into creativity. It helps if there’s some part of the canvas that I think is working, which inspires me to continue, to keep at it. I think I read somewhere that Hemingway always began his writing day by re-reading the last page he wrote—assuming he liked what he last wrote, similar concept!
What led you to choose your favourite media?
I like being able to layer paint, to move from thick to thin—and because I’m impatient, and because acrylic dries fast, it seems like a good fit for me. Also, less expensive than oils, which is a good thing.
Are there any other artists from Northern California whose work you admire?
I greatly admire and have always been inspired by Richard Diebenkorn, especially during his time in Albuquerque when his palate and paintings became informed and shaped by that south-west landscape. I like all the Bay Area figurative artists: David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Joan Brown.
If you could summarise Willow Banks the person in 3 words what would they be?
This is a tough question; I’m afraid my answer might change from day to day…but, if I had to go with broad brushstrokes, I’d say: independent, unconventional, wistful.
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