Interview with Sean Banister for “Intersections” | Exhibition on view February 5 – February 26 at Thinkspace Projects

Thinkspace Projects is pleased to present Sean Banister as part of our new group exhibition, “Intersections”. The exhibition is a solo show for each artist in their own right, and continues to build on their momentum into 2022. Each artist’s work is unified by storytelling, displaying an array of memories and experiences within the walls of the gallery.

Sean Banister uses this show as an expansion and continuation of his work in 2020, delving into the identity of humans as storytellers and collectors. Having developed a strong interest in how the items we interact with and collect help us to craft our own self-narratives, Banister explores how this affects image and individuality, from the way one sees themself personally to the way they exist and are viewed in the world.  While each of his pieces for “Intersections” is unique, together they all act as facets of the same experience of living in our current time.

In our interview with Sean Banister, he shares why he loves Pinterest, how he is spending more time on his art, and the mural that brought him back to painting.

Can you share with us a little bit about your upbringing and where you are currently creating?

I was born, raised, and currently living and working in Riverside, CA. As the oldest of 3 boys (I’m 8 and 9 years older than my brothers), we spent a lot of our time making up games in the backyard, playing in the pool, or exploring new video games and board games together. Building things out of random materials in the backyard, mostly from cardboard, and modding our nerf guns to try to get them to shoot faster were all major parts of how we spent our time growing up. Even if I wasn’t making art by myself, creating things was a part of our family culture. I love to travel and experience new places, but I always love coming back to SoCal and feel a very deep attachment to it as a place and a culture.

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes have you been exploring in your work?

The latest body of work is my effort to continue and expand on the ideas that I started in 2020. Humans are storytellers. We are also collectors, and I’ve always had an interest in how the items we interact with and collect help us to craft our own self-narratives about who we are personally and how we exist in the world.

Could you share what your day-to-day looks like when working in your studio?

I’ve been a full-time high school teacher since 2004, so my typical day in the studio occurs after I get off work and have had a chance to reset my brain. I really enjoy the act of painting, but before I jump into it I like to take a 30-min power nap, or if the weather is nice I’ll go for a quick walk. Once I get the gear-switch handled, then I click into a playlist and get to work. Somewhere in the evening, I’ll take a quick dinner break, maybe about 30-40 min, then back to work until somewhere between 8-10 pm. It’s easy to slip through an evening while painting, and I could go later but would definitely pay for it through the next day of work. Weekends get turned into studio work time too, but that’s a bit more loose depending on what’s going on. Some days will be a few hours and others will be a longer workday than I can fit in Monday-Friday.

What’s in your “artistic toolbox”? Are you particular about brands that you use?

As far a brands go, I’m a fan of Trekell brushes and almost exclusively use them for my work. For paints, I use Nova Color as I like the flow, but am feeling a need to branch out in the near future for more color options. I paint on cradled wood panels that I make myself, especially since companies’ supply chain have recently stopped working. Aside from those essentials, I use frog-tape masking tape from the hardware store, which gets me the nice crisp edges when I need them, a squirter bottle to wet my working surface to help achieve a variety of effects, and some house paint brushes for larger blending effects. Also, a blow-dryer is a big part of my work flow as it sets my paint and gets me to be able to work on adding the next layer.

How do you like to unwind outside of the studio?

I like my garage hobbies (my garage is like a woodshed/maker space), various kinds of physical activity, watching movies/ binging shows, spending time with loved ones, spending an evening at the local pinball arcade, playing music, etc. Unwinding is a weird idea though, as sometimes I feel like work helps me unwind; like it’s de-stressful to get at it, whether it’s at school or at the easel. My experience is probably different than other artists as I’m not full-time in the studio, so for me it feels like a balancing act. Sometimes my stress comes from the studio and other times it’s a stress-relief to be working in there.

Do you have a process for sourcing and/or keeping track of your inspiration?

While I have only really been creating work in earnest for a bit over 2 years, and my process is still really new, I do try to be intentional about how I collect input that my subconscious can then sort out before I compose a piece. I keep a sketchbook where I work out compositions, but I find that my freest work happens on scraps that I don’t really care about. I think when it’s a scrap, I don’t care if it’s trash and I don’t let my self-judgment hold me back as much. When I get a good scratch-paper thumbnail that I like I snap a pic to keep on my phone. I like mining ideas through random collections I keep on Pinterest as well, which I like because their program can take me down some pretty interesting visual rabbit-holes and lead me to a place I might not have thought up otherwise.

What was on your playlist while creating this new body of work?

As a pandemic project, some friends of ours made a great 80s playlist that’s about 45-50 hours long, so it’s great to put that on shuffle and just zone out on the work. It’s a good mix of genres from that era too. I like listening to new alternative music, hip-hop, and dance stuff too, but I don’t have much energy in spending my time curating playlists for those while I’m working, so while every now and then I’ll listen to the playlists Spotify makes for me, I mostly don’t wanna think about what I’m listening to and just zero in on the painting. So for 2020 I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that 80s playlist from my friends.

Most artists express themselves creatively as a child, but there is a moment when a shift occurs from just being creatively inclined to being more artistically minded – do you know when that moment was for you?

I got labeled as an art kid by my classmates and teachers through elementary so I was thinking about art pretty early as a part of my young identity. Thinking seriously about art the way I do now didn’t happen for me though until like 2018 as I shifted my priorities back to being an artist. I had been doing freelance graphic design for local companies as way to be in art outside of my work as a teacher, but it got to a point where I hated doing that and wanted to just have fun making art for myself again, so I got back into painting after a very enjoyable mural job I did for a local (now my favorite) arcade that helped me realize what I had been missing out on. It was really working on that mural job where I was in this large space, by myself, up on a ladder painting my designs on the walls and listening to music that I was like, “hell yeah, this is it” and so from then on I just try to keep taking steps toward more of that feeling.

Have you ever worked outside creating public murals? If not, would you be interested in pursuing one day?

I have only worked on outdoor murals while helping friends on their projects and volunteering at a few mural festivals here in SoCal. I love being outdoors working on large projects, and the physicality of painting large areas is also a fun aspect. That kind of work is exhausting, but it’s the good type. I definitely want to get into doing my own outdoor murals in the near future.

What words of wisdom would you share with your past self when you were just starting to create art? Is there anything in your artistic journey that you wish you may have done differently?

If we’re talking about my past self from 2018/2019 when I was making a return to art, I would say make more art, but there were a lot of factors at play. I don’t know how healthy it would have been to expect myself to do more than I was at that time given my schedule and learning stage. If we’re talking about a younger me though, like teenage me, I would talk myself into developing a sketchbook discipline asap. Mostly to develop a habit of generating ideas, both good and bad without judgment, but it would also be an added bonus of having 20-30 more years of drawing mileage behind me now for sure. I also would have liked to have had an art school experience, but while I’ll always wonder “what if” because it’s always a tempting game to play, the thing I can do is do my best now so that future-me won’t be looking back wishing I did this or that differently.

What did you find to be the biggest challenge of 2020 for you?

Trying to feel normal in a year where nothing felt normal. As a high school teacher, the whole year was totally lame, but I had to try to make it worthwhile somehow for my students and myself. As an artist, I was trying to continue to discover myself and develop my practice, at the same time as discovering and developing my new and expanding relationship/s within the art world, grasping at any scrap of info I could find on how the various ins and outs of that world work. I get a lot of enjoyment out of exploring and interacting with the world as well but that was a big pandemic no-no. So yeah, just establishing norms in a topsy turvy world was the biggest challenge.

What is your proudest accomplishment of 2021? Life thus far? (can be art-related or not)

For almost my entire teaching career I have both taught in the classroom for my full workday (first 15yrs as an English lit. teacher and the last 3 teaching art) and coached the aquatic teams at my high school after school almost year-round (yes through summers too). This year I knew had to finally make the full split away from coaching after 17 years so I could have room in my life to make art, and that wasn’t easy to do. I’m very proud of what I accomplished in my time coaching at my school, but I am also really proud in making that step for myself to be able to feel the type of fulfillment that I get from painting. It’s really a huge change in my life that I’m still adjusting to, and I’m very excited to have taken that step.

What big projects do you have coming up in 2022 and 2023 that you’d like to share more about?

I still feel very early on in my art journey, so I’ve not been jumping out of my skin to find new commitments to fill up 2022 and 2023 with. While I’m sure to be on the hunt for new projects after this show opens with Thinkspace, the biggest project I have to work on this year is myself, setting goals and enriching my practice as an artist.

Sean Banister Artist Statement for “Intersections”

With this new body of work, Banister continues where he left off in his 2020 Thinkspace Projects show “A Tourist at Home”, showcasing in each painting how the objects we keep in our lives can define how we see ourselves and our place in the world. While each of his pieces for “Intersections” is unique, together they all act as facets of the same experience of living in our current time. 

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.