Interview with Sean Banister for ‘A Tourist at Home’

Thinkspace is pleased to present ‘A Tourist at Home,’ the first major Los Angeles solo showcase of Riverside-based artist Sean Banister.

Banister’s story is the classic tale of a creative who went the route of doing graphic design to pay his bills and lost sight of his true love of drawing and painting. We’re thrilled to be able to help him make his original art his main priority again and are looking forward to watching Banister carve out his niche in the SoCal scene, and the world over.

In anticipation of ‘A Tourist at Home’ our interview with Banister discusses painting in a pandemic, the slippery slope of mind-reading, and the quintessential philosophical question –  if a professional wrestle, what would be your entrance theme song.  

Join us on May 30th for the virtual opening of ‘A Tourist at Home.’

Full schedule of events after the interview

SH: For those not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your background?

SB: I loved making art as a kid and was very into it as a teenager in the 90s. I was all about Dali, along with all the cool artists I got to know through Airbrush Magazine (never airbrushed, but it was a cool mag in those days). After high school though, there didn’t seem a viable way to start an independent adult life going as an artist (the internet then was not the resource it is today). So I discovered another love in English Analysis/Composition and in teaching, and became a high school English teacher after college. After finding stability in my career, I started working art back into the mix, designing graphics for t-shirts and swimsuits for high school swim teams. That didn’t really scratch the itch though, so I found my way back to my original love of drawing and painting a few years ago after taking some art classes at Riverside City College. I found I really liked being around artists and socializing while making art, so I started up the Inland Empire Drink and Draw to connect with and even build up my local art community. Taking the classes, along with a few outside workshops, and having fun with the drink and draw scenes in the IE and Long Beach made it feel like something was waking up inside that had been asleep for too long. In 2019, I really made an effort to produce more work and push my skills. Two of those paintings got into shows that got me some really good looks, and here I am.

SH: What is the inspiration behind this latest body of work?

SB: I was approached with the opportunity for this show a few months ago in March; at that time I hadn’t started any new paintings for the year and had already sold all my past year’s work. Instead of just going with “New Works” I wanted to develop myself and work toward having a theme, so I committed to “A Tourist at Home” based on the title of a Gang of Four song. Being a tourist is kind of about making decisions and valuing experiences based on your surroundings not being your normal ones. I thought for this show it would be interesting to see what that mentality would look like if a person wasn’t abroad but was stuck at home. It’s no small coincidence that this group of paintings was done completely under the stay-at-home order due to the pandemic as well. I use items in each painting to help focus the individual piece, to emulate the way we use items to assure ourselves of comfort or normalcy. 

In my first piece for the show, “Make Yourself at Home” there’s this really welcoming chair in a really unwelcoming setting. In addition to the dramatic lighting, I put monkeys in there to help give it an uneasy vibe. The monkeys represent the unpredictability and chaos that is a part of the creative process, and my own journey of getting familiar with and fusing with that process. There’s a monkey/s in each of the pieces for this show as a symbol of this. While the show explores the idea of being a tourist at home in perhaps a literal sense, for me it’s also about my own growth as an artist.

SH: What was the most challenging piece in the exhibition and why?

SB: The most challenging piece was “Don’t Mind Me.” This being my first show, I didn’t really know how to plan it out ahead of time, so I was relying on moments of inspiration to hit along the way. Before I got the idea for this I’d hit a wall and was getting very down on myself, so it felt amazing to break past this.

Then I realized what I had gotten myself into as I engaged in the detail that I wanted to see in it, particularly the leaves. The monkeys around the edge of the frame were fun, but those leaves! Ultimately I am really happy with this piece, but it was a tiring one for sure.

SH: What is your most and least favorite part of the creative process?

SB: When I’m painting, there’s a moment where whatever I’m painting stops being the sum of all the steps it took me to get there, and switches to something that tricks my eye into believing what I’m looking at. That always gets me feeling good. So that, and of course finishing a piece completely and seeing the idea come into reality, those moments are my favorite part of the creative process. My least favorite is when I’m about ¾ into a work. Sometimes I start to lose steam, and maybe even question if the piece was a good idea to begin with. It’s a real bummer moment, but it just takes pushing through there to get back to the good vibes.

SH: Who are some of your creative influences?

SB: I fell in love with Salvador Dali’s work at a young age and his art still gets me inspired. As I was starting to really dig back into painting like two years ago, I discovered the work of artists like Craola, Jeff Soto, Camille Rose Garcia, and Esao Andrews. I was in awe to discover the worlds their work had developed, like you could step into another reality, and that they had been at it for so long.

While my aesthetic doesn’t really look like that, I’m still really energized creatively when I think about their work. Also, since joining Instagram a few years ago and discovering galleries like Thinkspace, I think my greatest creative influence lately has been seeing such an awesome array of artists creating with their unique voices and knowing that there is an accessible audience who wants and even needs this type of contemporary art in their lives. As far as my own style, I feel like I haven’t made enough work to be able to sit back and see what I’ve absorbed in my life and analyze how it’s come out in my work. I feel like I’m early on in this journey, and am just really encouraged by all the art being created in the world to keep moving forward in exploring my voice and my identity as an artist.

SH: If you could download any skill into your brain, Matrix-style, what would you want to instantly learn?

SB: I reaaallllly want to say Kung Fu, but after discussing it with my quarantine crew I think I’ll go with being fluent in all human languages. How much fun would it be to be able to go anywhere in the world and communicate on a native-speaking level? Sad to say I only speak one language, but fixing that is on my shortlist of new things to get at.

SH: Would you rather be able to talk to animals or read people’s minds?

SB: Talk to animals. Reading people’s minds seems like a slippery slope. I definitely wouldn’t want other people reading my mind, so it goes both ways. Also, there’s a big difference between what we think to ourselves and what we say and do. It would be too easy to start judging people on their thoughts and not on their actions. Like, people think some crazy weird stuff that nobody should have access to. I think that level of privacy definitely needs to stay sacred. Also, the only way to get a positive effect from mind-reading, I think, would be if everyone could read everyone’s mind. Now we’re imagining a really different world! Okay, I feel like being able to talk to animals would really enlighten how I look at life though, and where my values lie, so that feels like the better choice.

SH: We are in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s an unprecedented time, and it’s a weird time – What is your approach to life during this time? Are you sticking to routines, or making it up as we go? What does quarantine life look like for you?

SB: Well, as luck would have it, right when I was offered for this show was when we locked down, so mostly it has been filled with painting. I try to be active too, otherwise, I get into funky moods; it’s been really nice since the sunny weather started up again. I had like two weeks where things like my oven, my breaker panel, and clothes dryer for my house were taking turns breaking down, so I had to get professionals to come and fix them. I like to woodwork and build things in the garage too. I made all the panels I painted on for this show. I am a habitual hobbyist, so when I have free-time I very quickly fill it up. I get some video games in there, also Friday night video hangouts with friends. There’s a routine of sorts there, but it’s pretty fluid. For me there’s also this feeling of, when this is all over, am I going to value how I spent my time or just say, “Glad that’s over” and just close the chapter. I think I always have this small background anxiety over not wasting the time I have, but I’m not sure if that’s any different than regular times, or if I’m just more focused on it under the circumstances.

SH: Favorite thing you’ve watched, listened to, and ate in the last 30 days? Or since days don’t matter anymore, since the “shelter-in-place” orders came down.

SB: We just watched Nick Cage in Vampire’s Kiss, and I think that’s the best thing I’ve watched in the last 30 days. I don’t know how I’ve missed this movie until now. Cage has the most awesome freak outs in this movie and the story is really interesting. I love it when you come across a movie with dialogue that makes you want to memorize it.

While painting I’ve been listening to a really great playlist from the dudes at Sketch Party. It’s 64 hours long and a really nice mix of styles so I can just put it on random and zero in on painting while listening. I actually really like listening to other people’s playlists.

I think home-made pizza would be the most interesting thing I’ve eaten. It’s just pizza, but it’s more satisfying when the pizza comes out of your own oven.

SH: If you could be on a zoom call with 5 people dead or alive who would they be? What would be the ice breaker question?

SB: Is there a time travel aspect to this? It seems implied with the dead or alive part. There are a lot of different ways to go with, but I’ll go the New Wave route. All from 1979: Debbie Harry, Elvis Costello, Adam Ant, Danny Elfman, and Mark Mothersbough.

Icebreaker question after explaining the internet and Zoom: If you were a wrestler, what would your entrance theme song be?

My answer: “I Put a Spell On You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

Online Schedule of Virtual Events:

Saturday, May 30 at 12:00 noon pacific time we will post our professionally shot video tour of our new exhibitions to our Instagram TV

Saturday, May 30 from 1-2 pm pacific time we will go live on our Instagram to tour our new exhibitions + we will have all the artists on hand to briefly discuss their new shows

Sunday, May 31 at 2 pm pacific time we will post a full set of installation photos from both exhibitions to our Facebook and blog

Monday, June 1 at 4 pm pacific time we will share a link to the self-guided virtual tour of our new exhibitions on all of our social networks

Saturday, June 20 from 4-8 pm we will have a closing party via timed visits (scheduled online) that will be strictly monitored for everyone’s safety. No more than 4 patrons at one time, in one group (all must know each other and arrive at the same time). Masks will be required to enter and worn at all times. No exceptions. More details shared soon.

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