Writing Archive

Walter Darby Bannard: Then and Now

catalog essay, Center for Visual Communication, December 5, 2009

For this exhibition Darby lined up 20 years' worth of painting - they were all prolific years - and determined that the work of the first few and the relatively recent were the most interesting. This kind of tough decision demands an objective reflection that few artists can claim. Darby saw that a certain kind of paint editing that he had used in the earlier work might make a more interesting foreground if slightly figurative. The fruits of the consummate application of this idea adorn these walls, and adorn them magnificently.

Ideas come in the studio one after another, and most of them turn out to be duds. It is like having a thick ring of keys; they all look the same, but only one unlocks the door. You try one after another, then suddenly, whoosh - a whole new vista opens up, and you work like a demon to capitalize on it. These recent paintings are great art, no less so for looking madcap, even circus-like. They are at once childlike and fully formed in a manner suiting the output of a master.

I had Darby as a teacher in graduate school at the University of Miami shortly after he came there from New York City in 1989. Chief among the many lessons I learned from him is the supreme importance of going to the studio day after day.

This sounds banal, perhaps, but by doing so for decades one can outlast the vagaries of the art world. Darby was an abstract painter during a time when the best American art was abstract. He exhibited widely and often, making original contributions to art through an unsurpassable dedication to making his art better and better, but fled a New York art world that by the late '80s had lost a sense of reality and was losing its appetite for serious modernist work. New York continues to drown in inanities, but it has grown large enough, and in some cases mature enough, to begin to recognize the triumph that his art represents, and he is now showing there successfully again.

An exhibition surveying Darby's work, his students' work, and his students' students' work is an imperative for Miami. Such a show would include a wide range of styles and media of uniformly high quality and a healthy immunity to artistic fashion. Miami needs this.

Word count: 393

Return to Archive